Mississippi official says states misuse tobacco settlement money
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (AP) The Mississippi attorney general whose 1994 lawsuit against 13 tobacco companies led to a $240 billion settlement covering 50 states expressed concern that proceeds from the case are being misused.
Instead of earmarking the money to get people to stop smoking or never take up the habit, legislatures across the country are using the settlement on items that have nothing to do with health, Michael Moore said.
''I have a huge concern,'' Moore said. ''My concern is that if the states continue to do what they are doing, it could turn a major public health victory into a major public health defeat.''
Moore delivered the keynote address Monday at the annual meeting of the American Lung Association of Maine.
Moore said states that do use the money properly are finding it immensely useful. Maine, which receives about $50 million a year as its share of the settlement, is doing a reasonably good job, he said.
He said states can use the money to help pay for life-skills classes that also teach young people about alcohol, and how to make good decisions.
After the meeting, Moore suggested that spending tobacco settlement money on anything other than health issues is ''moral treason.''
He explained that the lawsuits were intended to force the tobacco industry to reimburse states for costs incurred treating smoking related illnesses. But, he said, ''governors and legislators see a bunch of money falling out from heaven.''
He made a comparison between the settlement money and the money the state of Alaska received from Exxon after its tanker, Valdez, crashed there, fouling its water with oil.
''The lawsuit was to use the money to clean up the mess,'' he said. ''If Alaska wanted to use it to build roads . . . people wouldn't let them get away with it in Alaska because the oil is still there.''
Joining Moore at the meeting was John Kirkwood, who took over last July as chief executive officer of the American Lung Association nationwide.