4 Ways States Could Spend Big Tobacco’s Money

Just 15 years ago, tobacco companies were told to give $246 billion over 25 years to state governments. During this lawsuit, Mississippi led the pack, with the state attorney general, Mike Moore, filing the first state lawsuit against the tobacco companies, and not without good reason.

While, at the time, the tobacco companies could hold individuals accountable for their choice to smoke and thus not having to pay out on individual lawsuits, Moore contested that, since the states had to cover medical bills for low birthweight babies, heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, and other tobacco-related health problems, that big tobacco should have to foot some of that bill. He won in the largest civil litigation settlement in history.

Now, about $100 billion of that $246 billion has been paid to states. Part of the settlement money was supposed to go to public service announcements like the infamous Truth campaign and smoking cessation programs, but lots of it came without stipulations, meaning that state governments could use the fund in whatever way they chose. This meant that every new governor could tap the fund dry for things other than anti-smoking public service announcements and/or education.

It could be worse. In Mississippi, as in many states across the nation, teen smoking is down 50 percent and adult smoking is down 25 percent. For that, we have public service announcements, prevention programs and cessation support groups to thank — many of which are funded by the tobacco settlement. However, these funds could be put to better use to make even more of a difference. Here are some more ways states can spend big tobacco’s money to make even more of a dent in their profits.

1. Develop Better Quitting Techniques

Nicotine patches, electronic cigarettes, nicotine gum, prescription medication — all of these methods have proven effective for some who are trying to quit smoking. However, many people don’t quit or delay quitting because it’s hard to do. If the money from big tobacco could fund research whose sole goal was to develop ways to make it easier to quit smoking, more people might take the plunge into a smoke-free life.I

2. Start Publicly-Funded Fitness Centers

Total health is not just about not smoking; it’s about getting a good workout and fueling your body with the right stuff. Many athletes I know wouldn’t touch a cigarette because it would be detrimental to their athletic performance. I also know just as many people who have addictive personalities and, once they realized how good going to the gym could make them feel — and how much better it made them feel than smoking did — decided to quit smoking once and for all.

In fact, a 2006 study in Austria found that people who attempt to quit smoking are more likely to do so if they follow an exercise routine. Publicly-funded fitness centers could aid in reducing smoking by involving kids in free fitness courses at a young enough age that they understand health and wellness before it’s too late, and it can motivate others to stop smoking or not start in the first place.

3. Bring Anti-Tobacco Education into Elementary and High Schools

I cannot stress this enough: stopping the smoking epidemic starts with prevention as the most important element. D.A.R.E. or Drug Abuse Resistance Education has been around since I was in grade school — almost 20 years ago — and, while the program is wildly popular, it has actually been found to be ineffective. We should avoid popular programs like D.A.R.E., but spend the money into more effective programs.

Effective programs should target teenagers, who often start to smoke because they feel insecure and stressed out, and they think cigarettes will make them look cool and reduce their stress level. Programs that take into account cultural and peer issues students face and use those issues to show students how to make smart choices.  This would be a great way to spend big tobacco’s money.

4. Develop a Reward System for Remaining Smoke-Free

Kids and adults both love being rewarded, especially for things they are already doing. Actually, the reason smoking is so addictive is because it tricks the body’s reward system into activating itself. Why don’t we spend some money working on a real reward system that will reward people for not smoking rather than the fake rewards we get from smoking? It would be a complicated thing to do, but if states could develop a reward system for non-smokers with the money big tobacco pays them, it could be cheaper than healthcare costs for those who do smoke.

Why not give non-smokers a refund check at the end of the year, or a little something extra like a gift card or free month at the gym? Rewards help people stay on track, and remind them to do what’s right for themselves.

Photo Credit: Fried Dough


Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton5 years ago

The taxes for cigarettes were supposed to go for healthcare & the lotto was supposed to go for Education. WHERE IS THIS MONEY??

Bruce K.
Bruce K5 years ago

When I lived in California any medical test related to breathing or heart was paid for by the "Tobacco Money" Now I live in New Mexico and I mention it to my Doctor and they look at me like I'm crazy? They Never Heard of that!?
I assume the money was not given to every state?

Paul M.
Paul M5 years ago

Three disassociated comments ...

Jane R. "People who are already addicted will pay whatever the price is" I'm not sure if you are being benign when you say this ... you don't have to look far to see that when people run out of the money to pay for an addiction, be it smoking, alcohol, cocaine, or whatever, they turn to crime to meet their needs; oh, and gambling.

I don't believe people have free choice over addition; observations lead me to this view. But anyway, we are better off treating the problem as a problem of community health rather than one of personal failure if we want our kids to be in smoke and butt free environments.

"I am not a smoker but I stand with them on the high taxes." Here in Australia raising the price of cigarets has had success, but only because it is part of a raft of actions, including real help to quit.

Marie W.
Marie W5 years ago

Basing educational budgets on 'sin' taxes- which many states do- is insanity.

Jane R.
Jane R5 years ago

God gave everyone freedom of choice. Why does the government want to take that away? They are doing just that by taxing cigarettes to make them so expensive that people can't afford them. I am not a smoker but I stand with them on the high taxes.
People who are already addicted will pay whatever the price is, and do without other essentials, such as healthy food like fresh veggies and fruit. The high tax on cigarettes only hurts the children of smokers because they will buy a pack of cigarettes for themselves before they buy their kids some milk or fruit. So are the high taxes helping the smokers (no) or hurting their kids?

Jacob Ross
Jacob Ross5 years ago

Err - shouldn't this money be used to compensate people and their families that have suffered serious health issues and/or incurred huge medical expenses or death as a result of smoking?

I guess not - better the politicians fritter it away on BS and no doubt channel some into their own pockets by various nefarious means, right?

Giving some of it to non-smokers is another liberal BS idea to get votes methinks.

Non-smokers have done nothing to deserve free money!

What's next? Giving vegans free money for not eating meat under the guise of saving themselves from heart attacks?

I swear - the liberal mind sure comes up with some doozies! That's why you should NEVER trust a liberal!

B J.
BJ J5 years ago

And the truth about how the states spent this money the past 15 years??

Hans Hoffmann
Hans Hoffmann5 years ago

The Big Tobacco companies are drooling at the sales of the electronic cigarettes. They are becoming the biggest sellers wherever they're being sold. Since they contain mostly nicotine
they aren't solving any addiction problems, only making more money for Big Tobacco!!!

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

I have had two sisters die of lung cancer, my sister Valerie two weeks ago. Of course Val's cancer was caught stage 1 unlike my sister Isabel whose doctor keep telling her nothing was wrong and when the ass finally got around to taking a chest X-Ray she had stage 4 lung cancer. My sister Val was also treated by the same HMO as my sister Isabel and even though these jerks caught it at stage 1 she die anyway. Isabel wasn't a smoker but she was around a lot of second-hand smoke and jogged in air polluted streets. Val was a smoker and didn't quit until she was 68 years old, she die just before her 75th BD. What’s interesting is our mother was around our father and 4 kids that smoked, had tuberculosis when I was born but was never affected, she died of old age at 99.

Every time I see a kid with a cigarette in their mouth I want to slap them silly. When my siblings and I grew up no one was saying smoking was harmful; but today these silly kids have all the information they need. I really don’t mean to be unkind, but anyone who starts smoking today is a bloody fool, we know the tobacco industry makes the things addictive.

The tobacco industry should be made to strip ALL chemicals from tobacco products and it should be made to do so yesterday. I know most people aren’t but I am for a ban on tobacco products until they do so.

Kamia T.
Kamia T5 years ago

I'd love to see the money going into the structure and training of additional medical teams, since one chooses to smoke, and one has to choose not to. Every kid in my daughter's high school got anti-smoking / anti-drug training. Guess what. Many still chose both activities, whether as something too do, to fit in, because it was cool; because their parents did ... It took my daughter's best friend having his grandfather diagnosed with lung cancer to stop. Knowing about something and doing something about are two different paths. Might as well spend the money to treat the problems that will inevitably arise.