Spending The Money
(CBS) When Big Tobacco finally settled lawsuits that had been filed against major tobacco companies by a long list of states, anti-smoking activists thought a lot of the cash would go towards programs to help smokers kick the habit.
Some of it has, but a CBS News analysis shows more than half of the states have locked up their share of the settlement money in trust funds and are using only the interest to pay for anti-tobacco programs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, states will this year spend $650 million in funds received from the 1998 settlement of the tobacco lawsuits.
That's just a fraction of the amount that tobacco companies are spending on advertising and that's what has anti-tobacco activists kicking up a fuss now on the way the settlement dollars are being spent.
Some other states haven't yet made the critical decisions about how to divide up the settlement money and others, like Michigan, aren't using any money for prevention of smoking. Michigan has opted instead to use its share of the settlement on medical research and college scholarships.
In California, the settlement funds went into the general budget, and a smoking prevention program is funded by means of a cigarette excise tax.
North Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky are using some of their share to help tobacco farmers make up their losses, and Illinois earmarked over $300 million for tax cuts on the theory that taxpayers, who've shouldered the health care costs of tobacco-related illnesses, were due for a refund.
Connecticut state lawmaker George Jepsen, the State Senate Majority Leader, puts forth pretty much the same argument, calling the tobacco money "a damage settlement to the state, for costs the state's taxpayers undertook."
Connecticut has so far spent just $5 million of the over $260 million it received in the settlement, but the cash isn't going to fund programs to help smokers quit.
Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, who helped negotiate the 1998 settlement, says the state needs to spend more on prevention.
'We are betraying the spirit and purpose of our lawsuit by failing to use tobacco money against Big Tobacco," says Blumenthal.
A spokesman for Connecticut Governor John Rowland, Dean Pagani, dismisses that attack, saying Rowland believes the $5 million, plus $40 million earmarked for a tobacco trust fund, is sufficient to fund prevention programs.
In Mississippi, state attorney general Mike Moore agrees with his Connecticut counterpart.
"This was a fight about improving the public health of this country and primarily about protecting children and reducing underage tobacco use," says Moore. "We ought to be using the money on what this fight was about."
Some who have fought the battle on their own say programs to help smokers really do make a difference.
"We had to pay $150 dollars to go to this class, apiece," says Thomas Albee, who along with his wife, Doreen, is now a former smoker. "I'm sure if they could go for free a lot more people would try to go."
There are some 47 million smokers in the U.S. and of that number, 70 percent are believed to want to quit.