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Almost $60 million from ’90s-era tobacco settlement headed to Utah

By Kyle Dunphey - Utah News Dispatch | Apr 29, 2024

Spenser Heaps, Utah News Dispatch

The office of the Utah Attorney General at the Capitol in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.

The 1990s-era settlements from big tobacco continue to benefit states, with Utah set to see another $57 million that will go toward public health programs.

That's according to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, who announced Thursday that the state will get $30 million for 2023 and $27 million for 2024.

The payments are part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which marked the largest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history and has funneled over $800 million to Utah. Former Utah Attorney General Jan Graham, the state's first and only female attorney general who died in February at 76, helped negotiate the settlement.

"Nearly three decades ago, the late Attorney General Jan Graham helped lead a landmark settlement with big tobacco companies requiring them to pay damages to each state so long as the states complied with certain enforcement conditions," Reyes said in a statement.

The settlement required 45 tobacco companies to make annual payments to 46 states and the District of Columbia -- Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi and Texas have their own settlements that predated the Master Settlement Agreement.

Those funds are intended to reduce rates of smoking in the U.S., particularly among young people. In addition to funding public health programs it also imposed new guidelines for tobacco companies that exist today, like raising the cost of cigarettes, restricting cartoons in cigarette advertising, barring companies from marketing tobacco products to children and prohibiting tobacco companies from selling merchandise with their brand name.

However, the annual funds hinge on the state's ability to enforce tobacco laws "diligently," according to the settlement. In a statement, Reyes' office said he settled enforcement disputes for 2004 through 2022 in 2018, and more recently, for 2023 and 2024, effectively freeing up the funds for Utah.

"Thanks to diligent work by lawyers in the AG Office and other state agencies, we have been able to hold tobacco companies to their MSA obligations even when they have made claims of Utah not enforcing tobacco statutes," Reyes' statement reads. "It has taken a lot of work, negotiation, careful planning, and strategic decision-making to keep settlement dollars coming in every year to Utah now and into the future."

Since the agreement, the funds have helped states cover the cost of treatment for tobacco-related diseases for Medicaid patients and other health care expenses.

Now, those funds go toward the Utah State Endowment Fund, while supporting public health programs like cancer research, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and alcohol, tobacco and drug prevention, the Attorney General's Office said.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.

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