Georgia Gov. Urges Tobacco Money Go to Health Care
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes on Friday called on state governments to use money from tobacco lawsuit settlements to improve the nation's health care system and help fund cancer prevention and treatment programs.
Barnes, a two-term Democratic governor touted as a possible presidential contender in 2004, accused some states of squandering a golden opportunity to improve the health of their citizens.
Tobacco companies agreed in 1997 and 1998 to pay $206 billion as part of landmark legal settlement with more than 40 states that had sued the industry in a bid to recoup the public health care costs of treating sick smokers.
The payments, which began two years ago, are likely to be spread out over a 25-year period. Lung cancer, a disease caused primarily by smoking, kills about 150,000 Americans each year. It is the No. 1 cause of cancer death in the nation.
``I've been very disappointed with the way some of these tobacco funds have been used nationwide,'' Barnes told delegates at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) 2001 Cancer Conference in Atlanta.
Barnes said he had encouraged other governors to follow the example of Georgia, which has earmarked two-thirds of its $4.8 billion share of the tobacco settlement for health care, including programs designed to prevent and treat cancer.
Georgia expects to spend about $1 billion fighting cancer during the next five to seven years.
Earlier this year, Tennessee, hard hit by the downturn in the U.S. economy, used a $560 million share of the national tobacco settlement to help balance its budget. Tennessee relies on a 6 percent state sales tax for the bulk of its revenue.
A handful of other states, including Alabama and Virginia, have opted to issue bonds backed with money from the tobacco settlements in order to fund economic development projects and, in one case, to finance a car-tax repeal.
``That's a missed opportunity,'' Barnes said.
The Atlanta-based CDC had urged states to use at least 19 percent of their tobacco money annually for new or expanded tobacco reduction programs. But only an estimated 7 percent of the funds have been allocated for this purpose.