June 20, 1997, OLYMPIA - Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire today joined 38 other attorneys general in announcing a proposed settlement of their lawsuits with tobacco companies.
"The settlement is a tough, realistic, effective step toward solving the most serious public health problem in America today," Gregoire said, noting that each year more than 400,000 people die from smoking related deaths.
The settlement requires tobacco companies to pay more than $300 billion in reimbursements to the states for tax dollars spent to treat Medicaid patients for smoking related illnesses. The companies also will pay $50 billion in punitive damages for past violations of the law. The money will be used to fund children's health programs and a $25 billion trust fund for health care related issues which will be determined by a Presidential commission.
But the real centerpiece of the settlement, Gregoire said, is a comprehensive plan which will change the conduct of the tobacco industry. "This agreement is a giant step forward in creating a comprehen sive tobacco policy for the nation," said Gregoire.
She said the comprehensive plan provides a "full arsenal" of weapons to combat tobacco problems. "It offers tough enforcement against illegal tobacco sales to kids, broad-based prevention strategies, smoking cessation programs, full disclosure of the health effects of tobacco and it preserves the individual's right to sue the tobacco companies."
Gregoire said the state's lawsuit wasn't about money, it was about protecting kids and improving public health. More than five million children living today will die prematurely because of a decision to start smoking. She said the comprehensive plan will make it harder for kids to buy cigarettes and silence the advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at kids. The tobacco industry also would be hit with up to two billion in penalties if teen smoking reduction goals are not met.
"It is time for this industry to stop addicting our kids and dooming them to an early death," Gregoire said.
Gregoire said the settlement also will finally provide smokers with full disclosure of the health effects of tobacco and for the first time regulate the industry. "The powerful tobacco lobby has succeeded in making the industry virtually unregulated and millions of Americans have died as result."
The agreement will require bold, blunt warnings on tobacco products and require public disclosure of ingredients and secret industry documents regarding the health effects of tobacco. It also will allow FDA to regulate nicotine and harmful ingredients and require the industry to develop a reduced risk product.
According to FDA, its regulations would prevent well over 60,000 deaths a year by reducing teen smoking. The federal agency also estimates that the health benefits of its rules, which are included in the settlement, would have a value of about $43 billion a year.
The tobacco industry will be forced to pay for tough, aggressive counter advertising campaigns and will fund smoking cessation for smokers who can't afford the programs.
Gregoire said the agreement also will attempt to change the conduct of the industry. "Tobacco execu tives for too long have said it is OK to prey on kids, lie to consumers and conspire to block safer products," she said. Companies will be required to adopt principles expressing a commitment to reduce smoking by kids and development of a reduced risk product. They also will have to put in place a number of other programs to see that those principles are carried out.
Gregoire, who was one of five Attorneys General who negotiated the agreement, said it must still be reviewed by President Clinton and will require some action by Congress before becoming final. She headed up the negotiating team working on public health and children's issues.