While some states have exchanged annual payments from the Big Tobacco settlement of a few years ago for one-time cash infusions, Missouri is not one of them. Information in Sunday's editorial on the proposed increase in the tobacco tax was incorrect. Faulty background information is to blame.
Thanks to Scott Holste, director of communications at the attorney general's office, for quickly pointing out the error and providing accurate information.
What Missouri has done is divert its annual payments -- starting in 2001 -- from the Big Tobacco settlement to general revenue to be used to balance some tight state budgets in recent years. According to Holste, Missouri gets annual payments from the settlement of $140 million to $160 million.
However, the general premise of the editorial was correct: Money from the Big Tobacco settlement was supposed to be used for smoking-cessation programs and health care for Missourians suffering from tobacco-related illnesses. Instead, Missouri has used approximately $600 million from the tobacco settlement for budget-balancing purposes and none, so far, for its intended purposes.
In its 2003 session, the Missouri Legislature set aside a portion of the settlement money to be earmarked in the fiscal 2007 budget for life-sciences research. This would be the first time funds from the tobacco settlement are used for purposes other than balancing the budget.