Monday, March 30, 2009

Senator Deutch and Senator Altman announce “Protecting Florida’s Health” legislation

Senator Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) and Senator Thad Altman (R-Viera) today announced sweeping legislation aimed at reducing the burden on Florida’s Medicaid program caused by tobacco use by targeting all tobacco products sold in the Sunshine State.

Sponsored by Senator Deutch, Senate Bill 1840, now named “Protecting Florida’s Health,” is a multi-pronged approach to tobacco use: not only is it intended to deter new tobacco users, but also to increase the amount of revenue available to cover associated health care costs by levying an increased surcharge on all tobacco products, such as cigars and snuff.

The legislation is backed by the Florida Chapter of the American Cancer Society, which joined the lawmakers in supporting the broadening of the original bill. Other lawmakers in attendance included Senator Nan Rich (D-Weston) and Senator Durrell Peaden (R-Crestview).

“This bipartisan legislation is about protecting health and promoting responsibility,” said Senator Altman, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance and Tax. “Our committee has conducted several workshops aimed at identifying policies that impede tax fairness. I believe this legislation is an excellent first step. It brings accountability and fairness to our system by reducing the burden currently borne by non-tobacco users.”

Medical studies clearly show the impact of tobacco use on the body. But while cigarette smokers have traditionally been the primary focus, research clearly shows a direct link between those using other tobacco products such as cigars and chewing tobacco and higher risks of certain cancers and other illnesses.

For example, tobacco products taken orally contain 28 cancer-causing agents and increase the risk of developing cancer of the mouth and pancreas. The health care costs associated with treating these tobacco-related illnesses are largely covered through the state’s Medicaid system.

“Tobacco use is a personal choice,” said Senator Deutch. “Yet that choice impacts non-smokers in the form of increased health care costs, which are currently borne by all Floridians. We are able to recoup these otherwise unrecovered Medicaid costs by holding users responsible for their actions. This legislation will also help to prevent young people from taking up smoking, and ultimately lead to a healthier future for our state.”

The additional revenue the state collects will be directed not only to Medicaid costs associated with tobacco use, but to other areas of critical need within Florida’s health care budget.

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