State enforcers to smoke out tobacco funds
The Utah Attorney General's office has announced the creation of a department to guarantee the state gets the nearly $1 billion coming from tobacco giants.
"Utah has consistently been a leader in this battle, and it is important that we make every effort to protect all that Utah gained in the process," said Attorney General Jan Graham in Wednesday's press conference.
Graham was instrumental in Utah's joining 45 other states in the 1996 lawsuit.
The Tobacco Enforcement Section, which will include one attorney, one paralegal and one part-time assistant, will also enforce the advertising prohibitions against the industry.
Under the prohibitions, tobacco companies cannot target youth in ads, sponsor sporting or other events with a large youth audience, use proof-of-purchase gifts that appeal to kids, use cartoon characters in promotions or use merchandising items that appeal to kids, like backpacks or T- shirts.
Standing behind a podium with a picture of a young boy in a school yard carrying a red duffel bag with "Marlboro" emblazoned on it, Graham said, "The tobacco companies agreed to a lot of ground rules when the agreement was reached, and it was left to the states to enforce those rules."
So far, Utah is among the first three or four states to establish such an agency to enforce the rules.
The Tobacco Enforcement Section will cost about $150,000 a year and will be paid for from lawsuit money the Legislature allocated to the attorney general's office.
"The tobacco companies owe Utah a significant amount of money and we must ensure that those payments come on time and in full," said Graham's chief deputy and former Weber County prosecutor Reed Richards.
So far, the payments have been both on time and in full. Utah has received three payments totalling about $35 million for 2000. The remaining $950 million is scheduled to be payed yearly through 2024.
Weber and Morgan counties have been a healthy beneficiary of Utah's good fortune.
The Weber Morgan Health Department received a grant for nearly $300,000 for youth-prevention and cessation programs.
"We were the only local health department (of 12 in the state) to go after and get a large grant," Kevin Thompson, director of the division of health promotion, said.
The funds will help take two programs -- Tobacco on Trial and a life-skills program -- into the classrooms of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders.
Thompson said this is a crucial age because many smokers start before they are age 12.
"Getting to the youth before they start is key," he said.
But for those who have started, the cessation program hopes to help them quit when they've only been smoking a year or two -- "before it becomes a life-long habit," Thompson said.