[ OUR OPINION ]
WHILE some states have spent the bulk of their proceeds from the settlement with tobacco companies on unrelated programs, Hawaii has devoted substantial amounts on smoking prevention and related health efforts. A lawsuit by Medicaid recipients maintaining that those amounts are not enough has been dismissed for legal reasons that fail to recognize the state's laudable use of the money.
money is well spent
THE ISSUEA federal appeals court has dismissed a challenge of Hawaii's distribution of its tobacco-settlement proceeds.
The Medicaid recipients want access to the funds not spent specifically on tobacco prevention. Federal Judge David Ezra ruled that the state is constitutionally immune from such lawsuits. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel disagreed with Ezra but found that the settlement allows the state to use the money "for any expenditures deemed appropriate by the state."
Both rulings might have left the impression that the state is squandering the settlement proceeds but is free to do so. That is not the case.
Over a 25-year period, Hawaii is due to receive $1.38 billion of the $206 billion settlement that Big Tobacco made with the states. Last year, an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures showed that states were targeting more than half of their annual proceeds on uses unrelated to smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that at least 20 percent of the proceeds go to smoking-prevention programs.
Hawaii's Legislature in 1999 established a Hawaii Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund to receive 25 percent of the state's tobacco money. The state Department of Health was allocated an additional 35 percent and the remaining 40 percent went to a "rainy day" emergency and budget reserve fund.
Hawaii legislators this year revised the distribution of its $40 million in annual proceeds, cutting the amount for the tobacco prevention trust fund by half and the "rainy day" contribution to 24.5 percent. They earmarked 35 percent to a children's health insurance program and 28 percent to pay bonds for a new University of Hawaii medical school in Kakaako. Thus, the percentage being spent on tobacco prevention and other health-related purposes was increased.
Governor Cayetano says Hawaii spends triple what the average state spends per capita from the settlement funds to curb tobacco use. The New England Journal of Medicine listed Hawaii last month as one of the nation's top four states in using tobacco settlement proceeds on tobacco-control programs.
Newsweek reported recently that Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee don't spend a penny of their tobacco settlement proceeds on antismoking campaigns. Fourteen other states are spending miniscule amounts on prevention.
New York doled out $700,000 in tobacco money to pay for a sprinkler system on a public golf course. Alabama spends some of its proceeds on a campaign to encourage carmakers to do business in the state and on a program to fight satanic worship in schools. North Carolina brazenly spends three-fourths of its proceeds on tobacco marketing and production.
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