NPR this morning ran a story on the 10th anniversary of the tobacco master settlement agreement, "What Has Changed Since The Tobacco Settlement?" The first of a weeklong series, today's report did little more than provide background and let former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore justify the litigation. The only objection raised is that the states have spent just an average of 5 percent of the settlement on tobacco control.
While most of the attorneys general who helped negotiate the deal are disappointed that states haven't done more with their cash, Moore says the money wasn't as important as what has happened culturally.
"Most of all we've changed the way people look at tobacco," he says. "There's no question anymore in anybody's mind that it's harmful and it will kill you."
So that's a federal policy decision being made to change American culture through the authority of state attorneys general. One hopes that NPR and the others who celebrate the 10th anniversary examine that policy implications of the master settlement, including the encouragement it gave to aggressive attorneys general to exceed their statutory authority and become the de facto federal arbiters of product liability law.
Another old but important issue also warrants attention: The ability of state AGs to supersede legislative authority to raise taxes.