Thursday, March 16, 2006

MSA-Induced Addiction to Tobacco Money Finally Being Recognized

An editorial in the today's Deseret News acknowledges that the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) has resulted in the states becoming addicted to tobacco revenues and therefore in an inherent conflict in the state's motivations to protect the public's health by reducing tobacco use.

"The madness of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the states and Big Tobacco was that payouts depended upon people continuing to smoke. Never mind that the states' lawsuit against tobacco companies sought to end deceitful advertising practices and the marketing of tobacco products to children. ... the states, Utah included, have grown accustomed to the settlement funds. ... It's a nasty addiction, considering that it's dirty money -— it depends on people continuing to smoke -— and there is now a question as to whether the full amount will be delivered to the states."

The Rest of the Story

I don't know what it is but the folks out in Utah are able to see things clearly. Perhaps it's the clear Rocky Mountain air. If so, then all of us should get ourselves out there to clear our thinking (and I know a few anti-smoking groups that could use a week or two in that air).

The Deseret News is precisely correct. The true legacy of the MSA is not any improvement in the public's health, but rather the creation of an addiction of the states to tobacco revenues. And it is a nasty addiction, because it does depend on "dirty" money - revenues derived largely from addicted smokers. The fact that smokers are now the chief, or only source of revenue for major state infrastructure and programs means that the states can no longer practice tobacco control effectively, because any interventions on their part which substantially reduce tobacco sales will also substantially reduce their MSA funding and threaten vital programs and services.

When it really comes down to it, the MSA can be viewed simply as a huge monetary transfer. Essentially, it transfers money from addicted smokers to state budgets and to wealthy lawyers. But it's not just a one-time transfer. It is a continuing system in which that money is constantly being transferred, and the system is dependent upon smokers continuing to smoke, or else it will collapse.

I was opposed to the MSA when it was first announced in 1998 and I predicted it would be devastating to the protection of the public's health. But I never thought it would work out this beautifully for the tobacco companies, Attorneys General, and plaintiffs lawyers, and this terribly for the nation's smokers and for the public.

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