Philadelphia Inquirer Opposes
Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial
Behind-the-scenes tobacco settlement falls short. Get Congress and the
President back into the act.
You'd be foolish to buy a used car the dealer wouldn't let you test
drive or take to your mechanic for a look.
By the same logic, 46 states should resist pressure to accept a complex
tobacco settlement unveiled just this week by eight state attorneys general,
who want those states to sign on by Friday.
Speculation is that states representing about 75 percent of the Medicaid
population would have to say yes to make the deal worthwhile to tobacco
Four states already have settled suits seeking damages for their tobacco-related
health spending for nearly $40 billion, money available then to be spent
on smoking prevention and health care in general.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Michael Fisher is one of the eight primary
players in this third major attempt at a national tobacco settlement. Nevertheless,
Gov. Ridge ought to advise him to hold off on signing the deal.
Though there's been scant time to analyze its full impact, the tentative
146-page agreement appears to fall short on a number of counts.
The settlement amount, $206 billion, works out to much less per capita
than the amount negotiated by Minnesota Attorney General Hubert "Skip"
Humphrey in a solo deal. Minnesota's 4.6 million residents got $6.1 billion
over 25 years.
Under this deal, Pennsylvania would get $11.2 billion for its 12 million
residents. New Jersey, where the attorney general is leaning toward this
settlement, would get $7.5 billion for 8 million residents.
Mr. Fisher lamely quotes a Philip Morris lawyer as warning that the
industry will never settle for Minnesota money again, because the industry
"spent $50 million changing the attitudes of the country."
Well, attitudes come and go. And Gov. Ridge might well want to gamble
on the Philadelphia jury that could, absent a settlement, someday hear
Pennsylvania's pending case against Big Tobacco.
Experts calculate it would take a $427 billion national deal to equal
the Minnesota settlement.
Any deal like this, giving the tobacco industry limited immunity against
state lawsuits over health-cost damages, cries out for input by public-health
representatives. Yet none were at the negotiating table.
So it is no wonder that public-health advocates, who have until Friday
to register their complaints to their respective states, feel that this
proposal is being railroaded.
John Garrison, head of the American Lung Association, said the deal
"does too little to protect public health and too much to protect
tobacco industry profits."
Many critics rightly point out that, unlike the tobacco deal that Congress
rejected last summer, this one offers no penalties should youth smoking
increase, no agreement on Food and Drug Administration oversight, and no
major increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes -- the primary tool
for decreasing smoking.
"This is what happens when you have failure of federal leadership,"
noted David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner.
"There is very little here for public health. There are more tobacco
industry loopholes than you can imagine. States as a group should not take
this deal. States willing to stand up and fight should do that.
"But the good thing is that this deal sets the stage, and makes
it imperative for Congress to act."
Credit the attorneys general with at least trying to fill the vacuum
left by last summer's congressional cowardice -- and lack of presidential
leadership. Caving under that tobacco ad blitz, Congress killed a $516
billion bill that could have attacked tobacco addiction and should have
done much to address the needs of poor children.
The new Congress will have a new chance -- but this settlement might
undermine it, since it makes new federal cigarette taxes a zero sum game.
As federal taxes increase, the states' settlement would decline.
Failing action by Congress, President Clinton still has the option of
having the Justice Department file suit against the industry.
It's too soon to let Big Tobacco off the hook the way this deal does.