American Cancer Society defends embattled anti-smoking fund
American Cancer Society officials today said the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco should be reformed but not dismantled, citing the state's recent success in reducing youth smoking.
Attorney General Mike Hatch wants to strip the group of the $202 million it administers from the state's 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry. He wants to transfer control to the state Health Department and the University of Minnesota and says the group should focus its attention on smoking cessation rather than working to ban smoking in restaurants in some communities.
"To dismantle MPAAT would squander an unprecedented opportunity," said Gary Streit, vice chairman of the American Cancer Society's board of directors.
Rather, Streit said, the group should reduce the size of its board, implement better conflict-of-interest efforts to prevent money from going to groups linked to board members and have an independent panel award all grants.
But he said taking away the group's independence, and thus giving the Legislature more oversight over the money, "would be like putting the fox in charge of the hen house" because tobacco lobbyists would be able to steer the money toward less effective efforts.
The American Cancer Society has received $199,000 in research grants from MPAAT, Streit said.
Christopher Squier, a professor at the University of Iowa who studies oral cancer and said he has never received MPAAT funds, said the group's efforts are succeeding.
He said teen smoking rates have declined overall in Minnesota, and the number of high school students taking up smoking has fallen 25 percent.
"Something seems to be working," he said. "It looks as if you've got the beginnings of a comprehensive tobacco control effort. So don't blow it."
In a legal memo to a judge with authority over the group, Hatch described MPAAT as an organization rife with conflicts of interest that pays only lip service to its legally mandated mission _ to help addicted Minnesota smokers quit.
MPAAT officials later responded to the court by saying they do "unique and effective work to reduce the human and economic costs of tobacco use in Minnesota."
They said the efforts to ban smoking in restaurants are only a part of a comprehensive approach to fight smoking.