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Teen anti-smoking campaign will end April 30

By Lenora Chu

Rochester Post-Bulletin

Target Market, the tobacco settlement-funded program that has mobilized armies of teenagers to spread its anti-smoking message, will shut down on April 30, organizers say.

Its dozen or so full-time adult staffers have been notified that their job agreements expire that day, according to Toni Wehman, Target Market's press secretary.

"I think there's a very strong feeling of resignation among staff members," Wehman said. "But I understand we have to be proactive in thinking of all possible long-term scenarios" in dealing with Minnesota's $4.2 billion budget deficit.

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Uncertainty about the program's future surfaced in mid-February when Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed eliminating the state's $446 million tobacco endowment, the sole source of funding for Target Market, to balance the state budget.

Whether the Legislature will approve elimination of the endowment remains to be seen.

But Robert Moffitt, communications manager for the American Lung Association of Minnesota, said his organization, which serves as Target Market's grant administrator, cannot afford to wait for the final verdict.

Terminating the program by May 1, two months before its fiscal year 2003 grant money runs out, allows Target Market to accrue savings that can be used for severance packages and other closing costs, Moffitt said.

Moffitt said he supports Target Market, but the American Lung Association could not afford to keep it going.

John Stieger, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health, said elimination of the tobacco endowment is practically a foregone conclusion.

"We're perceiving the endowment will be used to help balance the budget," Stieger said, "and even if the endowment isn't used in its entirety, there still won't be money to fund a statewide youth program."

Those explanations might satisfy adults involved in the program, but Target Market's 20-something field operatives and teenage volunteers say it doesn't make sense to eliminate a program before it's certain that funding will be cut.

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"Our teenagers don't understand why this program's on the chopping block even though we've been effective for the last couple of years," said southwest Minnesota field organizer Eric Sumangil. He cited last fall's Health Department survey that reported tobacco use among high school students had dropped 11 percent since TM's start in 2000.

Shana Koalska, a Stewartville High School student who heads up her city's TM crew, said that "we were really, really upset but there's nothing we can do."

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