ST. PAUL, Minn., May 8 /PRNewswire/ -- The legal team that brought the tobacco industry to justice commemorated the 5th anniversary of Minnesota's historic tobacco lawsuit settlement by challenging state leaders to use the settlement money to protect Minnesota kids from tobacco addiction, disease and death. Former Attorney General Hubert H. (Skip) Humphrey III and attorney Michael Ciresi, with the Robbins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi law firm, spoke about the settlement's achievements and criticized legislators for wasting the settlement's potential for making significant improvements in the lives of Minnesotans. "When I filed the lawsuit nine years ago, I said this was about more than recovering tobacco-related health care costs," Humphrey said. "I made it clear that to make a real difference, we're going to have to change the way the tobacco industry did business and stop them from targeting our kids. Humphrey continued, "As the person who launched the tobacco lawsuit, I can tell you that eliminating all settlement funds for youth prevention makes a complete and total mockery of the original purpose of the lawsuit and hands the tobacco companies a victory they only had to wait a few years to realize." Lawmakers in 1999 set aside 8 percent of the $6.1 billion settlement in a tobacco prevention endowment to reduce youth smoking. "The settlement's greatest achievement was a result of the state's tobacco prevention endowment, which saved 14,000 Minnesota kids from a lifetime of tobacco addiction," said Carol Falkowski, president, Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition. "We know everyone is being asked to make sacrifices. But eliminating youth tobacco prevention will only compound the problem of skyrocketing health care costs that are contributing to our current budget crisis." Tobacco use costs Minnesota's economy $2.6 billion in health costs and lost productivity, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Every year, tobacco-related disease takes the lives of 5,600 Minnesotans. Former Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm noted the contradiction between a recent Bush Administration report that praised Minnesota's youth tobacco prevention efforts as an effective way to save lives and reduce health care costs, and the Pawlenty Administration's failure to continue funding for one of the most effective public health initiatives this state has ever had. "I am proud of the national recognition our state has received but saddened that Minnesota lawmakers are making decisions that are penny wise and pound foolish," Malcolm said. "It will be a tragedy if Minnesota doesn't invest one penny of the $6 billion settlement to keep our kids from smoking." On May 8, 1998, the state of Minnesota along with co-plaintiff BlueCross and BlueShield of Minnesota settled a four-year legal battle with the tobacco industry. The state's settlement required the industry to pay $6.1 billion -- four and one-half times the $1.3 billion the state sought to recover health costs to treat sick smokers. Most of the settlement money is a sanction against the tobacco industry for what it did to addict kids and mislead the public. One year after the settlement, state lawmakers set aside 8 percent of the $6.1 billion settlement in an endowment, the interest from which funded a comprehensive youth tobacco prevention effort that reduced youth smoking by 11 percent in just two years, according to the Minnesota Student Tobacco Survey. With the state's looming budget deficit, the governor and lawmakers have raided the entire endowment. The governor and the House would not replace the funding that resulted from the interest from endowment. The Senate is considering options that would provide some funding for state and local youth tobacco prevention efforts. In addition to the monetary penalties, the state's tobacco settlement resulted in the strongest ban in the nation against marketing cigarettes to children, disclosure of millions of pages of secret tobacco documents, unprecedented reform of the industry, closure of the tobacco research and propaganda arm (the Council for Tobacco Research) and the first-in-the-nation bans on tobacco branded merchandise and secret payments for using cigarettes in movies. The Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition is a nonprofit organization of health, business and nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the Minnesota Medical Association.
SOURCE Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition