U feels impact as smoke clears from deal: Tobacco advertising will be absent from campus billboards and bus shelters

by Brian Close

Cigarette billboards in Stadium Village and on the 10th Avenue Bridge are coming down.
One provision of a $7 billion settlement between tobacco companies, the state and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota prohibits billboard and bus shelter cigarette advertising in Minnesota.
“Today the tobacco industry has surrendered, and they have surrendered on our terms,” announced state Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III to cheering supporters at a press conference Friday.
The settlement in the three-month trial came just hours before the case was scheduled to go to the jury. The tobacco companies settled instead of letting jurors mull over the $1.77 billion actual damage claim and possibly impose more in punitive damages.
“We agreed to the settlement because we concluded that it would be extremely difficult to reach a fair outcome, based on what we believe are a series of incorrect rulings by the court favoring the state, which in essence placed a loaded gun to our head,” the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said in a statement.
One ruling under dispute said the tobacco companies were responsible to protect consumers from health risks related to smoking.
But Humphrey, who said the companies were the moral equivalent of Columbian drug cartels, said Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick acted fairly. Humphrey pointed out that Fitzpatrick’s decisions were never reversed by appellate courts.
In the settlement, the tobacco companies agreed to several restrictions, which a jury could not have imposed, such as a nationwide ban on payments to movie makers to feature people smoking in films.
Other terms of the settlement include:
ù a court order banning marketing to children, enforceable with fines and injunctions;
ù a ban on distribution of promotional items, such as hats and shirts;
ù the disbanding of the Council for Tobacco Research;
ù money from the tobacco industry to fund the Minnesota Document Depository.
The state will use $100 million of the money to create a smoking cessation fund, which would offer a publicly funded treatment program for every Minnesota smoker who wants to quit.
Minnesota is the fourth state to settle with the tobacco companies, and the first to go to trial. Thirty-seven other states have lawsuits pending. In addition, several lawmakers in Congress are forwarding national tobacco bills, which would settle state suits.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., author of Congress’ leading tobacco bill, said the settlement increases pressure on the industry.
“The fact that tobacco companies chose to settle with the state rather than risk the fate of a jury’s decision … brightens the outlook for a comprehensive Senate bill,” McCain said.
— This article contains information from The Associated Press.