The Boston Globe
Tuesday, April 6, 1999
Spend litigation money on tobacco control -
and save children's lives
By Tom Reilly
As the Massachusetts Legislature decides how to spend nearly $8
billion from the tobacco settlement, it is being asked to consider proposals that neglect
the original mission of the lawsuit. When the attorney general's office filed suit in
1995, the goal was to overcome decades of public deception by the tobacco industry. If we
do not spend a significant portion of the settlement money on tobacco control programs, we
will have abandoned that ideal and squandered a historic opportunity to save lives.
For more than 40 years, the cigarette makers were masterful in
undermining efforts by health officials to discover and publicize the addictive and lethal
nature of their products. These companies were equally skillful in targeting new
customers. When one generation of smokers began to quit or die, they lured the next one.
They spent years -- and hundreds of millions of dollars in Massachusetts -- promoting
their products in ways that appealed to children. The Massachusetts tobacco litigation
asserted that the cigarette companies had a simple and shameful goal: to replace sick and
dying adult smokers with children. Unfortunately, they succeeded.
Every year, millions of cigarettes are illegally sold to children in
this state. It is the beginning of a cycle that far too often ends in death. Once children
start smoking, chances are they are on the road to addiction. In fact, of current daily
smokers, more than 80 percent began as children. A poll of 12- to 17-year-old smokers
found that 70 percent would not start smoking if they had a second chance, and 66 percent
said they wanted -- but failed -- effort to quit. The challenge is obvious.
Of children who start smoking today, one in three will later become
seriously ill from tobacco-related disease. Public health officials estimate that if
current trends continue, 105,000 Massachusetts children alive today will eventually die
from smoking. This tragedy is preventable, but only if extraordinary resources are brought
to the task. I have spent years developing violence prevention programs in schools. A
similar approach can work with tobacco. But it won't be easy.
The tobacco industry has spent billions to portray a "cool"
image of smoking. Huge sums were spent on marketing. Billboards were erected;
advertisements were printed in magazines with large youth readership; displays were put up
in stores; we saw actors smoking in movies; cigarette makers were major sponsors at
concerts and sporting events; and cigarette brand logos were plastered all over clothes
and accessories of school children. We work hard to convince young people to stay away
from gangs. We must work just as hard to convince them to stay away from cigarettes.
In this state we have more than a head start. The Massachusetts
Department of Public Health's tobacco-control program is a model for reducing smoking. Its
primary mission is to prevent children from smoking and reduce their access to tobacco
products. By funding community-based efforts, the program has made a difference through
education and enforcement. A look at some numbers shows that the programs are working.
Between January 1994 and June 1997, 141 Massachusetts communities
began requiring permits for tobacco retailers. Through local education and enforcement
efforts, the proportion of illegal sales to minors fell from 48 percent to 8 percent in
communities with a funded tobacco control program.
While the prevalence of youth smoking increased nationally between
1995 and 1997, youth smoking decreased in Massachusetts from 35.7 percent to 34.4 percent.
Smoking among 18- to 24-year-olds decreased almost 27 percent over a five-year period.
Massachusetts leads all states in the decline of women smoking during pregnancy: Smoking
rates fell almost 50 percent from 1990 to 1996.
The hard-won tobacco settlement funds offer a unique opportunity to
change how our state's children view tobacco. We should seize that opportunity. Every
dollar we spend now on smoking prevention avoids the necessity of spending many more
dollars down the road to treat smoking-related diseases.
Since the settlement was announced, we have heard almost daily about
programs that could use the money. Most are worthy and address serious issues, from health
care to public safety. But they require their own solutions. Some have even claimed that
the settlement already has billions built in for programs that will do the work of local
tobacco control programs. They're wrong. If we efuse to use the tobacco litigation
to fund tobacco control, we will lose more than money. We will lose the battle for the
health of our children. And they are the reason we started this fight in the first place.
Tom Reilly is the attorney general of Massachusetts.
To: Letters to the Editor
The Boston Globe
Re: The Boston Globe, Tuesday, April 6, 1999: "Spend litigation money on
tobacco control and save children's lives," by Tom Reilly.
Attorney General Tom Reilly has joined the growing ranks of tobacco
settlement historical revisionists ("Spend litigation money on tobacco control - and
save children's lives," Apr. 6). He asserts that the Legislature is being asked
to "neglect the original mission of the lawsuit," but himself neglects the
original mission of the lawsuit.
The alleged purpose of the litigation, presented in trial court
documents, the settlement agreement, and countless newspaper reports, clearly is to
"reimburse" -- the lawsuit's word, not mine -- the Commonwealth, thus
the taxpayers who fund it, for their years of alleged expense treating tobacco-related
illnesses of uninsured smokers through Medicaid and CommonHealth programs.
This opportunism is not unique to Massachusetts. The Minneapolis Star
Tribune noted last December: "Forget the fact that the tobacco lawsuit was waged in
the name of the taxpayers, ostensibly to compensate them for the smoking-related costs
they have borne. At this moment, organizations ranging from HMOs to ad agencies to schools
are lined up 12 deep to grab a piece of the mind-boggling tobacco windfall for
themselves." ["Lining Up for the Tobacco Money," by Katherine Kersten,
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 16, 1998]
The attorney general's office argued in Middlesex Superior Court:
"Reimbursement is simply 'repaying or making good the amount paid out.'" If this
is not a bait-and-switch scam, then taxpayers should now receive that reimbursement.
/s/ Chip Ford
Director of Operations
Citizens for Limited Taxation
*** four pages of documentary
excerpts follow(ed) ***
(Published in the
Boston Globe on Thursday, April 8, 1999)