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Florida Deal No Boon To Washington, Gregoire Says It Should Advance National Settlement; Trial On State’s Lawsuit A Year Away

David Ammons Associated Press

Florida’s eye-popping $11.3 billion settlement with the tobacco industry should boost chances of a national settlement, but doesn’t signal a similar windfall here anytime soon, Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire said Monday.

Gregoire, one of the five main negotiators on the proposed national agreement, said Washington is proceeding with its lawsuit, now set for Sept. 14, 1998, trial, in case the national approach fails.

The industry has not approached the state about a settlement such as Florida and Mississippi have signed, particularly since the state’s case is still at least a year away from the courtroom, said Gregoire spokeswoman Liz Mendizabal.

“The industry is looking at the settlement option only in states where the cases are on the verge of trial,” the attorney general said shortly after Florida’s settlement was announced by that state’s governor and attorney general.

“If the national settlement fails to win congressional approval, there is no guarantee big tobacco companies will settle with any other state,” Gregoire said.

In addition to the financial settlement, the industry agreed to pull down all of its Florida billboards within six months, starting with signs near schools. Vending machines where children have access would be removed, and outdoor advertising in sporting arenas and on mass transit would be banned.

Similar steps, as well as a huge financial settlement, are part of Washington state’s demand in its lawsuit. More than 40 states have sued the industry, and would be covered under the proposed national settlement of $368 billion.

“Florida’s victory gives more momentum to the push for a national settlement,” said Gregoire. “A global settlement ensures that Florida’s newly won authority to stop tobacco ads specifically targeting children would apply in Washington and every other state.”

The national settlement also includes nicotine regulation and other points not considered by the individual states, she said. Also, the success of Florida and Mississippi might not be shared by other states in their individual lawsuits.

“We think it’s better insurance to have the national settlement,” said Mendizabal.

Jon Ferguson, senior counsel for the state, said Washington could get between $3.3 billion and $3.9 billion over 25 years if the national settlement is approved by Congress and the White House.

Congress is not expected to take up the settlement until next year. President Clinton has criticized some aspects of the deal, but Gregoire thinks he’ll eventually become a booster.

“It’s looking do-able,” said Mendizabal.

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