Tobacco money

It has been 10 years since the historic lawsuit filed by states against Big Tobacco was settled. The states had sued to recover costs they claimed had been incurred by taxpayers for the treatment of medical problems caused by using tobacco products. Under the 1998 agreement, the tobacco companies agreed to pay out some $294 billion over 25 years.

At the time of the settlement, most states said they would use the money for health care and smoking-cessation programs. In fact, less than 4 percent of the billions of dollars sent to 46 states so far has been used for that purpose. In the current fiscal year, states are expected to spend $718 million on tobacco prevention, far below the $3.7 billion recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, tobacco companies spent $13.1 billion in 2005 on advertising and marketing their products, according to the most recent figures from the Federal Trade Commission.

Some states, including Missouri, traded future payments from the tobacco settlement for up-front cash to balance tight budgets during some lean years.

One argument for spending the money on things other than health care and anti-tobacco programs is that the settlement represented compensation for expenses already incurred by states -- expenses that prevented state from funding other programs like highways, prisons and economic development.

How the money is spent is up to each state. There were no strings attached to spending the settlement funds. Spending less than 4 percent on health-related programs might be considered a less than ambitious effort to undo some of the health problems related to tobacco use, past and present.