We’re not going to gloat and say we told you so, even though we could because we did.
Back in 1996, when then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales launched his anti-tobacco campaign, soon followed by state attorney generals across the country, the big promise was that proceeds from settlements would be used to offset state health care expenses related to tobacco use among our citizens – and to underwrite state efforts to reduce usage.
The big promise, as we foresaw, turned out to be the big lie.
Settlements served mainly to enrich plaintiffs attorneys and to finance state programs unrelated to tobacco use.
According to a new report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “states continue to spend only a miniscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use” and have “failed to reverse deep cuts to tobacco prevention and cessation programs.”
In the current fiscal year, the report notes, “the states will collect $25.7 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.8 percent of it – $459.5 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. This means the states are spending less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.”
Texas ranks near the bottom (41) in a state-by-state chart of funding for tobacco prevention programs, spending only 2.4 percent of the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
That’s the legacy of Dan Morales and the Tobacco Five: attorneys John Eddie Williams, Walter Umphrey, John O'Quinn, Harold Nix, and Wayne Reaud, who split billions in contingency fees.
Morales subsequently pled guilty to two counts of mail fraud related to the tobacco settlement and one count of filing a false tax return. Williams and Umphrey went to the well again in 2009, suing tobacco companies for selling light cigarettes.
All that talk about looking out for the public interest was just a bunch of smoke.