INDIAN HEALTH: Tribes Sue for Share of Tobacco Settlement
Twenty American Indian tribes have filed a class action suit against the tobacco industry for $1 billion, claiming they were unfairly excluded from the $206 billion settlement reached between the states and Big Tobacco. "Once again in Indian country, we have been left clear out of the process," said Wilfred Louie, one of several tribal officials that appeared at a news conference Thursday to discuss the suit. According to the suit, filed in San Francisco, "Indians were counted in census data used to determine how the money would be distributed but were not allotted their own share of the money," which the tribes say constitutes racial bias and infringement on Indian sovereignty (AP/Atlanta Journal- Constitution, 6/4). The suit points specifically to two provisions of the settlement that direct the companies to pay $25 million for a national anti-smoking campaign and $50 million to assist the states in enforcing various marketing restrictions. Neither includes any funding for Indians living on tribal lands. The tribes stress that Native Americans have a "unique complaint" in that after World War II, tobacco companies targeted the "niche market" of Indians "by encouraging tribal governments to set up 'smoke shops' to sell cigarettes at discount prices." As a result, the smoking rate among Indians is now 39%, compared to 25% for whites (Geyelin, Wall Street Journal, 6/4). Steve Kotech, a spokesperson for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., said the company believes the arguments "are without merit" (Walker, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.