The Boston Globe
Monday, April 12, 1999
Panel focuses on tobacco, minorities
By Zachary R. Dowdy
The impact of smoking on blacks and how they could benefit from the
multibillion-dollar settlement between tobacco companies and the states will be the focus
of a symposium today at Roxbury Community College.
[Rev. Hessie Harris of the Born Again Evangelistic Outreach Ministry], US Surgeon
General David Satcher, and other officials and health specialists will participate.
According to the organizers, the central question to be addressed is: Will the
African-American community pay the bill?
"Our concern is where will [the tobacco settlement] money go?" Harris
The payments are part of a $206 billion settlement that resolves a national
lawsuit seeking reimbursement incurred by states because of Medicaid costs stemming from
treatment of smoking-related injuries.
How to spend the nearly $8 billion destined for Massachusetts under the terms of
the settlement is still under discussion in the state Legislature.
Some argue that since African-Americans represent a major segment of the smoking
public, they should receive a portion of the monetary benefits from the settlement.
"The smokers are paying for it," said Nancy Rigotti, a physician at
Massachusetts General Hospital who runs its Tobacco Research and Treatment Center, a
smoking cessation program.
"The people who got smoking-related diseases and were on Medicaid were mostly
people of color and the poor," she said. "We should make sure they benefit from
The Boston Globe
Monday, April 12, 1999
About the Tobacco Money
By Jeff Jacoby
The first checks in the $246 billion settlement between the cigarette makers and
the states will soon be cut, and bureaucrats and lobbyists are banging their spoons on the
table, demanding the money -- usually in the name of "the children" -- for their
pet projects. The loudest clamor comes from those who want rich new subsidies for
antitobacco programs -- everything from don't-smoke TV commercials to paying firefighters
to lecture schoolchildren about the dangers of smoking.
But amid the din and drone of all this special-interest pleading, you can also
hear voices lifted in support of the proposition that the only legitimate use for the
settlement money is to repay the taxpayers who advanced it in the first place.
"Tax-and-spenders are salivating at the prospect of $8.1 billion in tobacco
settlement bucks swelling the state treasury for 25 years to come," editorializes the
Detroit News. "The lung lobby can hardly wait to launch yet more anti-smoking
programs. But every penny rightfully belongs back in taxpayers' pockets by way of a tax
New York's new US senator, Charles Schumer, urges his state "to use $9
billion ... of the settlement to reduce county property taxes ... because this is the
amount that rightly belongs to property taxpayers in the counties outside of New York City
who bore much of the cost of treating tobacco illnesses."
The head of the Center of the American Experiment, a Minneapolis think tank,
writes: "Minnesota's $6 billion tobacco free-for-all is about to begin. Folks, get
ready to witness the boondoggle of the century. 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."
In South Carolina, Attorney General Charles Condon is blunt. "These funds --
the $2.2 billion designated for South Carolina -- are reimbursements -- reimbursements to
the taxpayers of our state for dollars already spent. It would be a terrible injustice if
those funds were used to pay for more government programs and more bureaucracy, or to grow
the government in any way.
And from Citizens for Limited Taxation
in Massachusetts, a perfect simile:
"The taxpayers should get back the tax dollars
they paid for Medicaid-funded treatment of smoking-related illnesses," says CLT's
executive director, Barbara Anderson. "We are the aggrieved party here. We are like
an assault victim who pays his medical bills, pays his lawyer to sue the perpetrator, wins
a court settlement, then learns that the settlement money will be used to provide
self-defense lessons for whoever wants them."
The states sued the tobacco companies on the theory that they were entitled to
"reimbursement" for the losses they incur in treating smokers who get sick. But
there are no losses! Most states collect far more in tobacco taxes than they pay out in
medical costs to treat smoking-related illnesses. Massachusetts, for example, spends about
$200 million annually on health care for smokers. But it takes in more than $300 million
per year in tobacco excise and sales taxes. Far from depleting the state treasury, smokers
enrich it with a $100 million annual surplus.
As it is, states can't spend their revenue fast enough these days; statehouse
budgets are running the biggest surpluses in 25 years. To this gusher of money -- all of
it confiscated in one form or another from taxpayers -- comes the added windfall of the
tobacco settlement, which for most states will be roughly equal to the amount they already
collect in cigarette taxes.
These funds belong to the public. State governments have no defensible claim on
them. It was Joe and Jane Taxpayer who laid out the cash for the expenses now being
"reimbursed;" it is Joe and Jane Taxpayer to whom that cash should now be
returned. As a matter of logic and morality, the case for using the tobacco jackpot to cut
taxes is overpowering. No doubt that is why state officials and anti-smoking activists
keep yelling about "the children" and how Big Tobacco is trying to kill them:
anything to keep the subject from changing to tax relief.
One of the great perversities of the governmental war on smoking is the extent to
which government profits from smoking. Jacob Sullum highlights the astonishing numbers in
the May issue of Reason magazine. Last year, the tobacco industry's profit on a pack of
cigarettes sold in the United States was 23 cents. On the same pack, the federal
government collected 24 cents in taxes and the states collected an average of 36 cents.
Incredibly, 72 percent of the net proceeds from tobacco sales goes not to Big Tobacco but
to Big Government.
No wonder even vehemently antismoking politicians never call for banning
cigarettes outright: They don't want to kill the goose that gives them so many golden
Arguments can be made for and against tobacco taxes. But the settlement fund is
not a tax. If the attorneys general meant what they said, it is a reimbursement -- a
repayment of money that the taxpayers originally fronted. When those settlement checks
start coming in, it is those taxpayers to whom they should be endorsed.