Proposed legislation would mandate use of tabacco money by states

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    By LORIANNE UPDIKE

    Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., will introduce legislation in Congress today which allows states to keep all of the controversial tobacco lawsuit settlement money, on condition they spend 25 percent of it on tobacco control.

    The legislation proposed by Hansen and Meehan, co-chairs of the Congressional Task Force on Tobacco and Health, could be a solution to the long-standing political battle between state and federal governments over the tobacco money.

    Mandating how only 25 percent of the settlement funds are used is generous, considering the federal government would normally use 57 percent of the money to pay for medicade expenses next year, said Jeremy Kidd, Health Legislative Aide. Targeting adolescent teens by the tobacco companies, which was inflating medicade costs for the states, was the original reason for the lawsuit.

    “It seems like common sense to me that, if tobacco use among teens is the problem, and tobacco companies give you money because of the problem, you might want to spend money to fix the problem,” Hansen said in a press release.

    The Utah Attorney General Jan Graham’s office agrees with Hansen in his efforts to ensure settlement money is spent on tobacco control, yet still said the states should be able to make that decision.

    Graham has long advocated the need for money to prevent teen smoking. She made a promise to the Utahns last month during the legislative session to get the money back from the federal government and the let Utahn’s decide how it is used.

    Graham is in Washington, D.C. with Gov. Mike Leavitt, who met with 50 governors and President Clinton Monday to discuss the use of tobacco settlement funds.

    “The governors are pleased with the work that the attorney generals have done in bringing us to this point in the process,” Leavitt said in a press release, “but now we must ensure the states, not the federal government, recoup the funds from the agreement in a timely manner.”

    Leavitt said the states took the risk in the law suit with the tobacco companies, so they should decide how settlement money is used.

    However, Kidd disagrees. Since the federal government would have to pay for legal fees if the states had lost, it also took an appreciable risk in supporting the law suit, Kidd said.

    “Half the money came from the federal government in the first place,” Kidd said, “so it’s not unreasonable to ask the states to spend 25 percent on the tobacco issue.”

    Kidd said the federal government doesn’t want the money, they just want to fix the problem.

    Hansen’s legislation is endorsed by the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

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