Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former tobacco industry lobbyist, won a long battle in court to withdraw all funding for Mississippi's highly successful anti-smoking program, and last week the last dollar ran out.
"This is truly a case of one man, a longtime tobacco industry lobbyist, using his power to destroy a program that was reducing tobacco use among Mississippi's kids," said Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national nonprofit organization.
In a report to be issued Wednesday, the group documents what it calls Barbour's "relentless attack" on what it said was the nation's most successful anti-smoking program.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
Barbour complained that the program received its funding directly from the courts and that it needed legislative approval, according to Myers. When the legislature passed a bill to continue the funding, Barbour vetoed it and went back to the courts to withdraw all remaining monies from the program.
Myers says he believes Barbour's motive was to protect his longtime clients in the tobacco industry. Barbour served as a lobbyist for tobacco clients from 1998 to 2002. His firm, Barbour, Griffin, & Rogers, was paid a total of $3.8 million by the tobacco companies, according to reports obtained by the United States Senate Office of Public Records.
Myers says Barbour's attack on the anti-smoking program is an "outrage" given the program's strong record of success in preventing teens and children from smoking.
Between 1999 and 2004, the program reduced smoking by 48 percent among public middle school students (from 23 percent to 12 percent) and by 32 percent among public high school students (from 32.5 percent to 22.1 percent), according to Sharon Garrison, Communications Director for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, the organization that runs the program.
Barbour's office has said that his actions had nothing to do with his former lobbying clients' interests. According to his office, Barbour vetoed the legislation that passed to continue the program's funding because of the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi's lack of accountability.
"The Partnership couldn't produce an audit that showed item by item, line by line, how the money was spent," said Barbour's spokesman.
Garrison says her organization's audits are made public every year. "These accusations are untrue and unfair."
Barbour has proposed a "Healthy Kids" Initiative, which would allocate the $20 million to expand the school nurse program, maintain anti-tobacco education and advertising, expand cancer research and fight against drugs.