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Group Seeks to Aim Anti-Smoking Drive at Children

Times Staff Writer

Reasoning that the best way to break the smoking habit is to stop it before it begins, sponsors of the successful tobacco tax initiative Proposition 99 said Thursday they want to focus their anti-smoking education campaign on school-age children.

“We want to teach every child about the hazards of smoking,” said Dr. W. James Nethery, chairman of Coalition for a Healthy California. He added that “90% of all smokers start by the age of 19, and 60% begin by the age of 14.”

Key members of the coalition are the American Lung Assn., the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Assn., the Planning and Conservation League and the California Assn. of Hospitals and Health Systems.

Proposition 99 imposed a 25-cent-a-pack tax increase on cigarettes and placed comparable tax hikes on cigars and other tobacco products. The roughly $650 million a year raised by the new taxes will go into anti-smoking education campaigns, health care, cancer research and enhancement of natural resources.

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The anti-smoking education campaign is part of a proposed five-part legislative program to implement the initiative that was unveiled here and in Los Angeles on Thursday by Proposition 99 sponsors.

Nethery and others said they are bracing for what they think may be a battle over the money because state funds are being stretched to the limit by another November ballot initiative, Proposition 98, the school funding measure.

David Langness, an official of the American Heart Assn. in Los Angeles, said: “This is the first major new source of revenue for government since the passage of Proposition 13 (the property-tax cut measure) in 1979. The barracuda will be out.”

The plan put forward by the Proposition 99 coalition envisions that the $650 million in new revenues would be split this way: $292.5 million would go to hospitals and doctors to defray medical treatment costs for those not covered by public or private insurance; $130 million would go into an education fund; $32.5 million for research on a cure for lung cancer, heart disease and other tobacco-related illnesses and $32.5 million into a natural resources account for park and wildlife enhancement projects.

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The remaining money, roughly $162.5 million, would go into a general account that would be distributed to various unspecified programs that would be approved by a special committee.

As for the education fund, sponsors of Proposition 99 said they want legislation that will earmark 70% of all the money for programs aimed at school-age children.

School districts would be eligible to apply for the Proposition 99 money, but so would community clinics, volunteer health agencies, local health departments and hospitals and community clinics.


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