Settlement Money Going Up in Smoke?

The tobacco industry recently settled lawsuits with forty-six states. The settlements totaled two-hundred-forty-billion dollars. It was money many people believed was earmarked for programs to reduce smoking – especially among kids. In the second of a two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports not all states are spending the money that way:


These days, there’s a lot of emphasis on keeping kids from smoking – everything from

billboards and television spots, to educational programs in schools. But for kids who

already smoke, there haven’t been many programs to help them quit. In the first of a

two-part series, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports getting help

is getting tougher:

(sound of hallway)

North Kent High School in Comstock Park, Michigan, is an alternative high school – a

school for kids who couldn’t make it in traditional programs. Some couldn’t keep up

academically. Some were expelled for using drugs, or fighting. And some are drop-outs,

trying again.

Principal Donna Hendershot says many of the kids often have a rough home life, where

there’s substance abuse or physical abuse.

“Every student is their own story. The one thing they all have in common is that they

didn’t fit in that traditional, well-structured program.”

Another thing these students have in common is that most of them smoke. According to

the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking rates at alternative high

schools across the country are nearly thirty percent higher than at traditional

schools. Donna Hendershot says between eighty and ninety percent of her students

smoke. But considering all the other problems the students face, Hendershot says for

many years, smoking was tolerated in designated areas.

“Rather than fight the issue – you gotta smoke, you go to this place, you smoke. And

then the school board and the superintendent said to me, ‘No more. We’re giving you

notice. By July one, there can be no smoking at your school. You have to enforce the


But Hendershot thought that cracking down punished the kids for their addiction. She

wanted to do something different. She wanted to help them stop smoking permanently.

But she soon found out, that was easier said than done.

“The one thing we discovered in our research is that there aren’t too many successful

teenage smoking cessation programs. Most people just say, ‘Oh, you can’t get kids to

quit smoking. Why even try?’ And that seemed to be the prevalent attitude. But we had

to try, because I was in the situation with these kids here, and I didn’t want to give


So Hendershot teamed up with tobacco control specialists at a local hospital. They

funded a new program to help teens stop smoking. The nine-week course included heath

screenings for the students. They also met individually with a social worker, for

ongoing support. And, the kids even got free candy and gum to help curb their


High school senior Sabrina Schoonmaker says the program worked. She says the stop

smoking message really hit home as she watched her heart rate before and after


“And every time you would take a hit on a cigarette, you could see on that monitor,

your heartbeat rise. And it would rise a couple beats, every time. And that’s scary to

think, that every time you smoke, that happens.”

It took Schoonmaker two tries to stop smoking. Now she’s been tobacco-free for over

eight months. But programs like this are few and far between. Many people believe the

recent tobacco settlements with states provided funding to help keep people from

smoking and to help them quit. But on average, states have only set aside about eight

percent of the money for those types of programs. And when it comes to kids and

tobacco, most of the emphasis is on prevention – keeping them from smoking in the

first place. Experts say while there’s some good data available about prevention

programs, there’s still a lot of work to e done when it comes to research about

helping kids quit.

“In terms of the number of studies that have been done, in terms of the rigor of

studies being done, it’s lagging way behind.”

Steve Sussman is a professor of preventative medicine at the University of Southern


“Part of the reason for that may be skepticism about the efficacy of teen cessation

programs. That is, people perceive they’re just too young, that once they’re smoking

regularly as a teen, they’re not going to quit and you’ve got to wait until they’re an


So, there’s a catch-22 for stop-smoking programs targeting teens: to get good data,

researchers need funding. But to get funding, they need data. North Kent High School

is an example of the problem. Even though the principal Donna Hendershot claims a

forty percent success rate in getting students to quit, she’s fighting to keep her

program alive.

“About the time we were really getting it right, you know, the funding fell out from

under it. And so I’m back to where I always said I would never be: forcing these kids

to go all day without a cigarette, watching the nicotine withdrawal, just having some

minor little education pieces in place, but not the full support system that we had.”

Because of this fight for funding, tobacco control advocates like Donna Hendershot are

now trying to raise awareness of two issues: That teens often need help to quit

smoking, and that the tobacco settlement money isn’t being used to help curb tobacco


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson in Comstock Park, Michigan.