Ohio Judge Rules Tobacco Settlement Funds Should be Used as Intended -- To Reduce Tobacco Use and Save Lives

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Aug. 11 2009

Washington, D.C. — An Ohio judge today delivered an important victory for the state's children and health by ruling that Governor Ted Strickland and the Legislature acted illegally when they sought to take back $230 million in tobacco settlement funds they had placed in an endowment to fund programs to reduce tobacco use. Judge David Fais of the Franklin County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas issued a permanent injunction on the diversion of funds and ordered that they must be used as intended: to fund programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. We urge Gov. Strickland not to appeal this ruling and to support the use of these funds for tobacco prevention and cessation.

The Court rightly found that the seizure of the tobacco settlement funds and the reduction or elimination Ohio's highly successful tobacco prevention programs would cause profound harm to the health of the citizens of Ohio. As Judge Fais wrote in his ruling, "Depletion of the Endowment Fund, and discontinuance or reduction of the tobacco prevention and cessation programs funded by the Endowment Fund, would result in a substantial increase in tobacco-related premature death and disease in Ohio, and result in a substantial increase in medical expense for both Ohioans and the state of Ohio for treatment of tobacco-related disease."

We applaud the American Legacy Foundation for their leadership in pursuing this litigation to ensure these tobacco settlement funds are used as intended to prevent children from starting to smoke and help smokers quit.

At the time of the 1998 state tobacco settlement, Ohio leaders promised to use a portion of the approximately $300 million in settlement funds the state receives each year for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. In 2000, they created the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation to receive this portion of the annual settlement funds and establish a permanent endowment to run tobacco prevention and cessation programs. However, Ohio leaders since regularly diverted funds intended for the Foundation. Then last year, Governor Strickland and the Legislature sough to raid the Foundation's remaining funds to help pay for an economic development plan.

The Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation has a strong record of success. The Foundation's programs have helped reduce smoking by 63.5 percent among middle school students and by 42 percent among high school students since 2000. Adult smoking in the state has declined as well, with 20.1 percent of Ohio adults reporting that they smoke, down from 26.3 percent in 2000.

It is critical that Ohio continue to invest in programs to prevent children from starting to smoke and help smokers quit. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Ohio. Each year in Ohio, tobacco use claims 18,500 lives and costs the state $4.37 billion in health care bills, including $1.4 billion in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $625 a year on every Ohio household.

 

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