OLYMPIA -- As the national tobacco settlement reached another significant milestone today, Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire said tobacco payments should arrive in state coffers within two weeks and that there are encouraging signs of a dramatic decline in total consumption of cigarettes.
The tobacco settlement, which was announced last November, reached final approval status today. That means the agreement has completed a legal appeal process and been formally court approved in at least 45 jurisdictions.
With final approval, tobacco industry payments will move from interest-bearing escrow accounts to state treasuries. Washington will receive about $51 million as its first installment, approximately $51 million in January 2000 and approximately $80 million in April.
Tobacco payments will continue in perpetuity and will total about $4.5 billion over the first 25 years for Washington and $206 billion nationwide.
Meanwhile Gregoire said it appears total cigarette consumption has declined by up to 7.5 percent in 1999 over 1998. She attributed the decline to a number of factors including price increases imposed by tobacco companies after the settlement and greater awareness of the health effects of tobacco.
"The early numbers are very encouraging," Gregoire said. "But we have to recognize that historically sales rebound with time after a price hike."
Gregoire said the state should, "continue an aggressive, sustained, comprehensive anti-tobacco campaign" using the tools provided by the tobacco settlement.
According to Gregoire, investing in anti-smoking campaigns is a good business decision for the state. "Money invested today will save millions more tomorrow," she said, referring to California where a comprehensive anti-tobacco campaign is credited with saving nearly $600 million annually in government health care costs.
In Florida an anti-smoking campaign helped reduce smoking among middle school students by 19 percent within one year, and a Massachusetts campaign reduced per capita consumption by more than 31 percent.
"We must keep our promise to our kids and invest in our state’s public and economic health," said Gregoire. "States that commit to tobacco prevention now will achieve huge savings in the future."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Washington’s health care system spends over $700 million annually treating tobacco-related illnesses. According to the CDC, a successful comprehensive prevention plan in Washington conservatively could prevent 70,000 premature deaths and save over $2.5 billion in its first five years.
Gregoire praised the Legislature and Governor Gary Locke for agreeing to dedicate $100 million of the state’s tobacco money for tobacco prevention and control.
Teens from across the state have been enlisted to help the state Department of Health develop Washington’s prevention plan, Gregoire said. The kids met in Yakima last month to select an eight-person advisory board for Health and develop ideas for an effective youth campaign. "We must keep the faith with kids that we will help them stay tobacco free," she added.
Health officials say that most people can avoid smoking if they can be kept tobacco free during adolescence.
Gregoire said other progress has been made since 46 Attorneys General agreed to the tobacco settlement last year. Under the settlement:
- More than 14,000 tobacco billboard ads nationwide have been torn down or replaced with anti-smoking messages.
- Outdoor advertising on all public transit systems and in arenas, stadiums, shopping malls and video arcades have been removed forever.
- Joe Camel, the infamous icon of tobacco marketing to children, has been retired forever along with all other cartoon characters.
- Tobacco merchandise popular with young people -- such as hats, shirts, backpacks, and trinkets – were banned forever as of July 1, 1999.
- Two of the three industry trade groups that helped hide the truth about the effects of tobacco on public health have been dissolved. The final trade group will be dissolved 45 days after final approval.
- A website, http://www.tobaccoresolution.com/, containing all formerly secret industry documents uncovered in state lawsuits, is now available to the world on the Internet.
- Tobacco sponsorships have been severely restricted, including a total ban on events that have significant percentage of youth in attendance.
- Free samples of all tobacco products, which were widely available as handouts or through the mail one year ago, are now permitted only in adult-only facilities.
- Payments for product placement in movies, videos, and other media were banned.
- Lobbying against a variety of tobacco control laws and ordinances were banned.
- Consent decrees bolstered by a $54 million industry-financed national enforcement fund were filed in every state.
- The American Legacy Foundation, which will oversee a sustained $1.45 billion nationwide public education campaign, was created March 4, 1999.
Final approval of the settlement was reached seven months earlier than stipulated in the agreement. According to the agreement, it would become final when either 80 percent of the states representing 80 percent of the tobacco payments exhaust their individual appeal processes or June 30, 2000 whichever came first.