The big shocker in this story is that the ALA is surprised at what states did with the cash windfall. While crusading for decades to educate the public about the horrors of smoking, the American Lung Association has led the fight against Big Tobacco. This culminated in multiple lawsuits by the states to recover Medicaid funding lost to diseased smokers. The tobacco companies settled with most of the states in 1998 by agreeing to pay $206 billion over 25 years to 46 states, including Virginia. This meant a $4 billion shortfall for Virginia and other plaintiffs.
Critics of the state tobacco suits and law suits against the industry in general claimed the litigation was nothing more than a money grab disguised as a health crusade. Meanwhile, cigarettes are just as addictive and harmful today as they were 40 years ago when the Surgeon General warned America about the dangers of smoking. If it’s truly that bad, then it should be banned instead of being tapped to generate quick cash for cash-crazed lawyers and cash-strapped governments.
Ever since the settlement was announced, most states have been looking for ways to spend the money. Virginia tried to sell a majority of its share in order to get some quick cash for road construction. That plan failed in the 2000 General Assembly, but the state is using a percentage of the pot to help tobacco farmers who are giving up the business.
In decrying individual states for their indulgences with the tobacco settlement money, the America Lung Association graded 32 states with an “F” for their spending.
“They are raiding tobacco funds to cover budget shortfalls and denying themselves a sound investment in their citizens’ health,” John L. Kirkwood, the association’s chief executive, told the Associated Press.
Yes it is a shame that states are using the money garnered from the tobacco settlement to balance the books instead of designating it for anti-smoking efforts or heath care programs. But is anyone surprised?