Debate and Issues Archive

draft settlement

January 13, 1999
CONTACT: Scott Goold at 505.293.2504

Tobacco kills more Americans each year than alcohol, cocaine, crack, heroin, car accidents, homicide, suicide, fires, and AIDS combined.

Divide and Conquer
State legislatures across the country as well as in New Mexico are preparing for their upcoming session. Many groups and public representatives are focused on how best to allocate the money from the recent attorneys general settlement with the tobacco industry. Preliminary reports suggest that this debate could prove to be quite intense.

This past November 46 states signed the landmark accord with the tobacco industry. It is estimated that New Mexico will receive approximately $40 million each year over the next twenty-five years. Such a windfall is similar to winning a lottery. Yet winners of these games of chance frequently report that the entitlements do more harm than good.

For many of the social action groups, teachers and health educators who have been involved in the fight against tobacco, this money seems to be a gift from heaven. nfortunately, we will soon find that the money is a curse.

History has shown that the tobacco companies, as a group, engage in deceitful and manipulative practices. The recent release of the internal documents from the tobacco companies has shown that the industry regularly lied to the public and their representatives. This past summer the tobacco industry spent millions of dollars to unite smokers against the federal legislation that would have increased taxes on tobacco. The industry claimed that the taxes would place an "unfair burden" on smokers. Yet six months later, the tobacco companies raised prices nearly $.50/pack. The industry stated that the price increase was necessary to finance the state settlement. The tobacco companies backtracked from their earlier position and taxed their own consumers.

Those engaged in the war against tobacco have done so for years with limited resources. They fight courageously to counter billions of dollars that the tobacco industry allocates to advertising and promotion. Yet the settlement money is not the solution. Across the nation, the fight is now being diverted from the tobacco issue to discussions of how to allocate the new resources. David Kessler, former FDA Commissioner recently stated, "Right now, it is a free-for-all. It is a fight over money."

This is exactly what the tobacco industry wants. It is a well-designed strategy. The lure of greater resources will pit tobacco crusaders against each other. One of the most successful and time proven political and military strategies has been to segment and divide one's enemies. Once accomplished, individual opponents can easily be conquered. This "lottery" money will divide us. Do not take up the fight!

The key is to remain focused. Let the legislatures allocate the resources as they choose. Tobacco crusaders have been winning the war, albeit slowly. Due to increased public awareness regarding the social destruction of tobacco illnesses, we have made great strides the past few years. We must continue as before, understaffed, underpaid and underfunded. It is the purity in our hearts and the truth in our messaging that has been guiding us. Money will not lead to a victory over tobacco. Money of this nature will only result in internal fighting and the eventual division in our forces.

For more about this issue, see the CCAA Web site