In 1998, the several states which comprise our grand experiment in representative democracy found themselves on the receiving end of a windfall!! After years of abuse and under threat of continued litigation financed from the state’s deep pockets, the tobacco industry made peace with its enemies.

It was an easy choice considering the alternative was to be destroyed by government. Consider that in 1964 Big Tobacco was required by government to put warning labels on its product telling people cigarettes would be bad for them if they chose to smoke. Next, it was forbidden by government from advertising its legal product on TV. The last TV ad for cigarettes appeared on The Tonight Show on 1/1/71 Later still, it was forbidden to even market tobacco in and to certain segments of the population. Joe Camel and Winston’s 31 year history with NASCAR both withered and died. Government is still gunning for the tobacco Industry. Just in the last year, government has outlawed smoking in public places such as restaurants and stores here in Tennessee and elsewhere.

However, the unquestionable high point of government’s offensive against Big Tobacco arrived November 23, 1998. The end results of Big Tobacco’s product in the lives of willing and informed consumers was deemed so detrimental to the well being of the states that the industry itself was held accountable for the havoc their product wrought. Big tobacco was required to pay almost $250 billion to the states over 25 years in a settlement

…intended to cover past Medicaid costs from smoking-related illnesses in exchange for immunity for the tobacco companies from further state- sponsored lawsuits.

Such rulings are a perversion of justice. But they are typical of big government’s abuse of power. In this case, state government – with Tennessee ranked among the worst in the matter. On the one hand, we just passed a law which outlawed smoking in most public places. On the other hand, we also just tripled the cigarette tax to fund Education! Thus we’re funding a program for which the state continually wants more money with a revenue stream the state is trying to destroy. But we can trust the government on this. Just look at what a great job they’re doing.

Well, let’s consider the Tobacco Settlement funds, shall we? As noted, the money was intended to help states cover costs they incurred while dealing with health problems associated with tobacco use. But that’s not happening. Not in Tennessee and not anywhere else that I can find either.

According to The Tennessean, Tennessee is slighting lung cancer. In fact,

The $1.4 billion in tobacco settlement money that Tennessee has received since 2000 has gone into the general fund, paying for everything from state troopers’ salaries to computers in schools.

None of that money has been earmarked for lung cancer research.

A billion and a half dollars extorted from tobacco companies under threat of being sued into non-existence by the states. The states claim they are acting in the best interests of the people. Big Tobacco agrees to pay billions to offset the costs of past smoking and to fund state prevention programs. What do the states do? They do what unaccountable, irresponsible and out of control government always does – whatever they think they can get away with. Tennessee receives millions annually for state health concerns and spends nothing on it. Our neighbor to the north, Kentucky, is lauded for spending $35 million on lung cancer research since 2001. $5 million a year when they get well over $100 million. And Kentucky may be one of the good guys!

Quoting from The Tennessean again,

Because there are no restrictions on how states spend tobacco settlements, money that other states receive also often goes toward just about everything but research, said Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president and chief executive officer of the Lung Cancer Alliance, a D.C.-based advocacy group.

“We are astounded that this could be so overlooked, and are actively advocating for those resources to assist victims of this disease,” Ambrose said.

One would think that the states, which knew enough a decade ago to be concerned about the emerging health crisis they faced from smoking that they piled on on Big Tobacco, would also be smart enough to use this “found money” to address the issue directly. But we’re dealing with government here. The Tennessean adds:

For a state in which roughly one in four adults smokes, Tennessee has been notoriously bad about funding tobacco prevention programs.

But Danny McGoldrick, Tobacco Free Kids’ vice president for research, said that this year he applauds Tennessee for being “most improved.”

Tennessee put $10 million of budget money toward tobacco prevention for the first time ever this fiscal year.The money funded programs such as the smoking cessation hot line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, and nicotine replacement therapies for the uninsured.

McGoldrick also lauded the state’s new tax increase on cigarettes and the smoking ban in most public places.

“Last year was a big improvement, after years of doing virtually nothing,” McGoldrick said.

Previously, Tobacco Free Kids ranked Tennessee 51st, among all states and the District of Columbia, for its tobacco-prevention efforts. But the new initiatives bumped Tennessee up to 34th this year.

Tobacco Free Kids will present Gov. Phil Bredesen with its “champion award” in a few weeks for leading the efforts.

This is success? This is government for the people? No. This is typical government fraud, waste and abuse. Citizens out to be nauseated. But we accept calling it “improvement”. We spend $10 million of our $1.5 billion on a stop smoking program and our Governor gets a “Champion” award. Meanwhile, the other 49 states’ efforts are so equally pathetic our non efforts move us up 17 places in ranking and earn us the title “most improved”. Only to government bureaucrats is this success. Each Tennessean should call his representatives and demand fiscal responsibility in this matter.

This year alone, Tennessee is due to receive almost $160 million from Big Tobacco. By the time the 25 year payout period is up, we are due to receive almost $5 billion dollars. It is supposed to be to protect our health. It is supposed to be to help educate us. It is supposed to help us stop smoking. If we, the citizens of Tennessee, permit this fraud, waste and abuse to continue then I have to ask how healthy our priorities really are; what we are really learning from what they are teaching, and; what in the world are we really smoking in the Volunteer State?

Blue Collar Muse