Mirrors and lots of smoke
Here’s a big surprise. Much of the money tobacco companies committed to the states as part of a nationwide legal settlement hasn’t exactly been used as it was intended — for health care and preventing smoking.
Instead, the billions of dollars states have received since the settlement was reached 10 years ago have funded such important state needs as new golf carts and sprinklers at a golf course in New York, completing a museum in Alaska, funding a dog-catcher in Nebraska and others.
None of these funding plans was illegal, since the tobacco money came with no strings attached. And most of the uses were not nearly so frivolous as those listed above. For instance, the most frequent use for the tobacco funds — after health care — was to cover budget shortfalls.
Colorado used a portion of its tobacco funds to do just that in the early part of this decade. We see nothing wrong with that.
Although we argued 10 years ago that the money should be designated primarily to meet health care needs, along with anti-smoking programs, it certainly makes sense for a state to use some of that money to help keep critical state programs functioning.
It will be no surprise if states have to use that money to deal with budget problems in the current economic crunch.
Furthermore, Colorado has one of the better records in the country for actually using its tobacco funds on anti-smoking programs. It is ranked No. 9 among the states in the percentage of tobacco funds it spends on smoking prevention. That’s slightly more than half what the Centers for Disease Control recommends it spend, but it is still using a greater percentage of its tobacco-settlement money for that purpose than most states.
Some states have also used a portion of their tobacco money to build and maintain infrastructure, such as highways, and to aid education — not exactly the way most people thought the money would be spent, but worthy uses nonetheless.
But in addition to golf carts, tobacco funds have also been spent to build a tobacco-farming museum in North Carolina and on health care research for racehorses in Kentucky.
Makes you wonder what some state lawmakers were smoking when they doled out their tobacco money.