John O'Brien Apr. 10, 2008, 2:00pm
PHILADELPHIA - Tobaccco settlement season is nearing, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett wants his say in how his state's money will be used.
Corbett urged Gov. Ed Rendell on Thursday to use a coming $25 million payment from the 1998 Tobaccco Master Settlement Agreement on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
"Studies show that state tobacco control programs are effective at cutting the number of smokers, and the more funds that can be directed to these programs, the better the results," Corbett said.
"With nearly one-quarter of Pennsylvanians plagued by nicotine addiction and smoking-related diseases costing our state's health care system an additional $5.19 billion annually, the Governor and the General Assembly have a unique opportunity this month to invest the extra money in the health and welfare of our citizens."
The MSA allows approximately 40 tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in 46 states and six U.S. territories. It was negotiated largely by trial lawyers hired by the states who claimed tobacco companies were putting a strain on the states' Medicaid budgets.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute says trial lawyers were paid an estimated $13 billion for their work, which, in some occasions, amounted to tens of thousands of dollars per an hour of work. The settlement was worth $246 billion.
One of the main architects of the settlement, famed attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs of Mississippi, recently pleaded guilty to a judicial bribery scheme involving a dispute over attorneys fees earned in Hurricane Katrina settlements with insurance companies.
The participating states will receive their yearly millions from the settlement this month. Since the settlement was reached in 1998, more than $53 billion has been paid by tobacco companies and cigarette sales have dropped more than 21 percent.
Corbett is estimating his state will receive an extra $25 million this year because of the "Strategic Contribution Fund" payment that is required from 2008-2017.
"Tobacco use remains this country's leading preventable cause of death, but less than five percent of smokers are able to quit on their own," Corbett said.
"When comprehensive cessation treatments are unavailable, smokers have few places to turn for help. I encourage the Commonwealth and insurers across Pennsylvania to make a wise investment in helping smokers to quit -- and quit for good."
More than 40 organizations are backing Corbett's request, including the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.