When the states reached their historic $206 billion settlement last year with cigarette manufacturers, attorneys general from around the nation proclaimed that the purpose of their massive lawsuit was not to win money but to prevent teenage smoking.
But a year later, the settlement with cigarette manufacturers is paying for new sidewalks, tax cuts, boot camps and school construction. In some states, little, if anything, is being spent on anti-smoking programs.
So far, just 8 percent of the money is earmarked for anti-smoking programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended that 20 percent to 25 percent of the settlement in most states be spent on comprehensive anti-smoking programs.
In Texas, lawyers for the state will get 10 times the amount this year that is going into anti-smoking programs. In Michigan, not a penny of the settlement money will fund tobacco control.
Most of the 46 states that signed the $206 billion settlement with the tobacco manufacturers in 1998 began getting their money earlier this month, and half have decided how to spend it. The 46 states are scheduled to receive $8.7 billion over the next year. The rest of the money will be paid out over the next 25 years.
Another four states -- Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Minnesota -- reached separate settlements totaling $40 billion over 25 years.
The settlement provides for a reduction in payments if smoking levels drop. Industry critics have noted that the big infusion of money to the states -- and the use of that money for a variety of new programs -- gives state officials an interest in a healthy and prosperous tobacco industry.
Tobacco industry representatives who have testified before state legislatures in favor of spending more on teenage smoking prevention met with a lukewarm reception.
"The settlement was signed in a spirit of addressing the youth smoking problem, and we believe the states can do far more than they have," said Thomas Ryan, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA.
According to several recent studies, when states do enact major anti-smoking programs, it has an effect on teenagers' smoking decisions. In Massachusetts, which has had a comprehensive program for several years, a survey by the state Department of Education found that the number of high school students who reported smoking cigarettes in the month before the survey fell from a high of 35.7 percent in 1995 to 30.3 percent in 1999.
In neighboring Rhode Island, which has roughly the same demographics but has yet to put a comprehensive program in place, teenage smoking has increased from 21 percent in 1993 to 34 percent in 1999, according to a survey by the state Health Department.