Posted by: audreybenenati | December 31, 2009

While State Dithers, He Takes On Tobacco

New Haven Independent

by Melinda Tuhus | December 30, 2009 2:15 PM

While Driffin works in the trenches in New Haven, advocates at the state Capitol are trying to shake loose the money tree.

The state has been using the tobacco case millions to plug budget holes instead of combating cancer — because it can.

The tobacco settlement did not require states to use the money for smoking prevention and cessation. However, that goal was clearly a priority of the five lead state attorneys general — including Connecticut’s — when they hammered out the deal in 1998.

That deal sent an estimated $246 billion to 46 states in the first 25 years of the in-perpetuity agreement. Between $3.6 and $5 billion of that is Connecticut’s share.

The companies also agreed to limit their advertising in exchange for the states’ dropping multi-billion-dollar lawsuits against them. (Four states had already settled with the tobacco companies.)

But instead of funding anti-tobacco programs, billions have gone to plug holes in most states’ budgets, or for unrelated purposes. That’s certainly the case in Connecticut.

A study by anti-tobacco groups revealed the states’ lagging expenditures. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal noted that Connecticut this year will collect $494 million from the 1998 tobacco settlement and in tobacco taxes, but spend just 1.5 percent of it on tobacco prevention. He called that “unconscionable,” and concluded, “This is a matter of life and death. I will continue fighting for more state money to prevent teen smoking and help smokers kick the habit.”

In a talk at the Yale Law School (his alma mater) last spring, ten years after the settlement, Blumenthal said, “My greatest achievement was going after the tobacco companies. But my biggest disappointment is not being able to determine how the nearly $5 billion in settlement money allocated to Connecticut has been spent.”

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