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Master & Settlement: Tobacco foes want even more money

Many of the public-health groups who originally cheered on the attorneys general litigation against the tobacco companies are now marking the 10th anniversary of the tobacco master settlement agreement. They issued a news release today hailing the agreement's accomplishments while decrying the states' unwillingness to spend the billions of dollars exclusively on anti-tobacco and public health campaigns.

Their solution? Reallocate the dollars AND raises tobacco taxes even higher. The recommendation is included in a new report, "A Decade of Broken Promises: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement Ten Years Later," released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

From the news release:

  • Congress should enact legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The U.S. House of Representatives on July 30 voted 326 to 102 to approve this legislation, and it has 60 sponsors in the Senate, including President-elect Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
  • Congress should also significantly increase the federal tobacco tax and utilize some of the revenue to fund a national public education and smoking cessation campaign.
  • The states should fund tobacco prevention programs at CDC-recommended levels, further increase tobacco taxes and enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws (24 states and the District of Columbia have enacted such laws to date). The CDC has estimated that if each state sustained the recommended level of funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs for five years, five million fewer people would smoke in the U.S., and hundreds of thousands of premature deaths would be prevented.

So the dollars have not been spent efficiently, reflecting the public policy goals as determined by...the litigants? Perhaps if the public health groups had worked through the policymaking branch of government, legislatures, then they could have achieved more.

Although, realistically, that's surely not the case. Reflecting the will of the electorate, state legislators are more reluctant than public health advocates to raise taxes and limit First Amendment rights, the end effect of the MSA. So the AGs and their special-interest allies instead used litigation; at least a nationwide lawsuit gave the public health groups potential access to the money.

Finally, we're struck by the (too-familiar) mindset reflected in this release and the groups' arguments: If only we had enough money, if only we could spend more on education and campaigns and public service announcements, we would change these people! We would stop these smokers and wipe out tobacco once and for all!

The perfectability of man...

Earlier posts:

Master & Settlement: Budgets, bonding and bailouts
Master & Settlement: General Tobacco sues AGs, competitors
Master & Settlement: The many related issues
Master & Settlement: Coughing at the 10th anniversary

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.