Humphrey submits plan to reduce smoking

ST. PAUL (AP) — A newly formed anti-tobacco organization would decide how to spend $202 million of Minnesota’s $6.1 billion tobacco settlement under a plan outlined Tuesday by Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III.
“I believe we have laid … the foundation, certainly, for a world-class organization,” he said.
The May settlement included a provision for setting aside about 3 percent of the state’s money for cessation and treatment programs. Humphrey had until Monday to submit his plan, and the 400-page document made it to the Ramsey County Courthouse just before offices closed. The details were released Tuesday.
The nonprofit organization — the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco — would control two accounts.
The first, funded with $102 million due from the tobacco industry in December, would pay for cessation programs for Minnesotans seeking to quit smoking.
The second account would get $10 million from settlement proceeds in each of the next 10 years to pay for national research into tobacco control.
A 19-member board of directors appointed by the governor, attorney general and legislative leaders would decide specific uses for the money. The board would include members of anti-smoking groups and health care organizations.
The group would be led initially by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and Dr. David Kessler, former director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also offered its help and expertise, said Doug Blanke, consumer policy director in the attorney general’s office.
“They’ve got the learning, and they’re just dying for someone to come along and say We’ve got the resources,'” he said.
Ramsey County District Judge Lawrence Cohen will decide whether to accept, reject or modify Humphrey’s proposal.
Humphrey would like to see more than the $202 million required under the settlement’s terms to go to his proposed organization.
He wants the Legislature to set aside about $650 million from the remainder of the settlement in a trust account. Interest from the account would go to the tobacco group.
“We really believe that if we are going to get at this problem … we’re going to have to appropriate more than the 3 percent,” Humphrey said.
But convincing lawmakers to turn over millions of dollars may be difficult, said several legislators.
“If there were a trust fund set aside for any particular program the Legislature should decide how to spend the money,” said Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd and chairman of the Health and Family Security budget division.
Some lawmakers have proposed using the $6.1 billion, which the tobacco companies will pay over 25 years, for tax relief.
“It seems the proceeds from this settlement ought to go to taxpayers to reduce their tax burdens and not to create new programs for government,” said House Minority Leader Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.
Minnesota is the only state to set aside money in a tobacco settlement for specific purposes. Mississippi, Florida and Texas, however, are using some of their proceeds on efforts to curb smoking, especially among young people.