June 21, 1997 in Nation/World

Idaho Stands To Get $10 Million A Year Late Entry Into Lawsuit A Boon Because Legal Costs Avoided

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Idaho would get more than $10 million a year under the settlement with U.S. tobacco companies, said David High of the state attorney general’s office.

“It will, I believe, significantly reduce minors’ smoking, which will ultimately save some lives,” said High, chief of the civil litigation division. “Secondarily, the state will receive some payment for the wrongful acts of the past.”

Idaho was the 35th of the 40 states to join the lawsuit, filing its suit on June 9.

“As it turned out, our timing was ideal, because we managed to avoid a lot of the expense a lot of states incurred,” High said.

Idaho held off until its state Health and Welfare Department had finished a lengthy review of smoking-related medical expenses, he said.

The state anticipated a costly discovery process starting in a few months if the suit wasn’t settled.

High said the settlement could bring sweeping changes to how tobacco is marketed in Idaho. Plus, it means an end to cigarette vending machines - a hot issue in the Legislature in recent years, although the state hasn’t banned the machines on its own.

Brett DeLange, a deputy Idaho attorney general in the consumer protection unit, said, “There will be no more billboard advertising at all, no more Joe Camel, no more Marlboro Man.”

All states will share in the money that comes from the settlement, High said, but those states that sued may receive additional payments. Plus, the tobacco companies will cover states’ attorney fees.

“For sure we will not be worse off” for joining the lawsuit, High said. “We may be better off.”

Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire said the settlement could mean “literally millions of dollars on an annual basis, forever,” for state taxpayers.

Gregoire, one of the key negotiators, called the deal “a tough, realistic, effective step toward solving the most serious health problem in America today.”

Washington Gov. Gary Locke, a fellow Democrat, also endorsed the deal, saying it was “better than dragging this issue out in court toward an uncertain result while 3,000 more children start smoking every day.”

The settlement, which still needs approval from Congress and the White House, would at least partially reimburse state taxpayers for billions of dollars they have shelled out for huge medical bills directly related to smoking, Gregoire said.

But Gregoire said she doesn’t fully trust the tobacco industry to not unravel portions of the deal and doesn’t know for sure that Congress will approve it.

So the state will press ahead with standby plans for a full-blown lawsuit in King County Superior Court next year, she said.

It is that suit, along with ones brought by 39 other states, and the specter of multibillion-dollar setbacks, that drove the tobacco industry to the table, she said.

Officials at the Spokane Regional Health District responded to the settlement with cautious optimism.

“This could have a tremendous impact on kids,” said Linda Jackson, health educator for the district.

The settlement would sock the industry with a $360 billion bill to be paid over the next 25 years, including an upfront punishment of $50 billion. The dollars would be used for health care and other purposes determined by Congress and the states. In exchange, the industry would gain some immunity from lawsuits.

“But it was never about the money,” Gregoire said. Bringing the industry to heel was more important, including government control over nicotine content, marketing, a billboard ban, stop-smoking programs, blunt warnings about the deadly potential of smoking, and more, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

, DataTimes


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