Those public service announcements by local athletes in which they say they don’t chew, dip or smoke, are having an impact. So much so that Gov. Charlie Crist proclaimed this week “Tobacco Free Florida Week.”
In an unusual display of teamwork, eight pro and college teams around the state along with Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports are continuing the anti-tobacco messages in force this week. The networks have taped more than 90 tobacco-free announcements with players and coaches. They’ll be played on scoreboards and during game telecasts.
Skeletons -- representing the nearly 29,000 Floridians who die each year from smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control – will be dressed as sports fans and placed in the stands at participating arenas and stadiums (see photo of skeletons in UF and FSU gear). Street teams will promote anti-tobacco messages; smokifier vans, in which fans can see how they would age if they smoke, will be at the events.
"By combining efforts of professional and collegiate teams, local County Health Departments and other key tobacco prevention stakeholders, we can further extend the reach of the campaign's message," Kim Berfield, Florida Department of Health deputy secretary, said in a statement.
The festivities started Friday at the Orlando Magic-Detroit Pistons game and continued today at FSU’s basketball game against Clemson. Sunday afternoon’s Marlins-St. Louis Cardinals spring training game in Jupiter will also be a Tobacco Free Florida event. The rest of the week’s schedule: Monday night’s Heat-Cleveland Cavaliers game at AmericanAirlines Arena; Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Rays-Houston Astros spring trianing game; Thursday’s Panthers-Pittsburgh Penguins game at BankAtlantic Center; Friday’s Tampa Bay Lightning-St. Louis Blues game; and Saturday’s UF-University of Kentucky basketball game.
"Tobacco Free Florida Week presents a tremendous platform for us to utilize our unique media assets, along with those of our sports team partners across the state, in a concentrated, highly-visible way and encourage Floridians to pledge to be tobacco free," Fox Sports and Sun Sports Senior Vice President and General Manager Steve Liverani said in a statement.
Tobacco Free Florida Week is one part of this year’s campaign to promote anti-tobacco messages and help smokers quit. The campaign is funded by tobacco settlement dollars made available for anti-smoking programs when Floridians approved a constitutional amendment in 2006. Last year, $17 million was spent on the media campaign; the amount is up to $19.8 million this year.
The program directs smokers to the American Cancer Society’s Quitline for counseling and nicotine replacement patches, gum and lozenges. The message has been effective. Calls to the Quitline rose from about 4,000 in 2007 to about 45,000 last year.