TOBACCO: Spurs Debate among Various Interests
Today's Los Angeles Times predicts "pitched battles" over how state and local governments will spend their portions of the states' tobacco settlement "bounty." The Times notes that at issue "is not only how to allocate the money, but whether government has a moral and fiscal responsibility to use settlement funds to reduce smoking and care for people with illnesses often caused by tobacco." Some are concerned that specific programs would lose funding when the tobacco-cash well dries up in 2025. State Sen. Joe Dunn (D), charged with packaging the party's tobacco legislation, said, "We are at a unique point in history. We either make the decision to re-invest the dollars into health care for tobacco-related illnesses and tobacco-control programs or 25 years from now we as a state are going to be right back in the same situation we are now with no recourse to (sue) the industry." More than 12 bills are pending in the state Legislature, ranging from proposals that would allow localities to spend the money as they see fit to ones that would dictate specific spending. But counties are weighing their own proposals. San Diego County has already voted to put its money in a health care trust fund. In Los Angeles, Mayor Richard Riordan (R) and state Sen. Richard Polanco (D) are squabbling over whether to use the L.A. county's $313 million share on a larger County-USC Medical Center or to construct handicap-friendly curbs. Johanna Goldberg, vice president of the American Lung Association of Los Angeles County, said, "We need to have curb cuts. But this money should be spent to halt the marketing of tobacco to children, to provide protection from second-hand smoke and to reimburse the cost of lung disease related to tobacco use." Whatever the eventual outcome, Dr. Robert Ross, director of the county Health and Human Services Department, said, "We are going to have a huge food fight within the health community over how best to spend those dollars" (Warren, 4/16).
Prop. 10 Gets Moving
The state commission charged with overseeing the implementation of Proposition 10 programs and the distribution of funds yesterday voted to release about $8 million in planning funds. Commission Chair Rob Reiner said, "We're trying to get moving here. Let's not let this drag on to two more meetings because, folks, you're not going to get anything done." The initial money, part of the $165 million the state has already collected via the cigarette tax hike, will be distributed to counties based on birth rates, with a $50,000 per-county minimum (Locke, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/16). (Click here for a related story.)
Lawsuit Bill Defeated
The state Senate yesterday defeated a bill by Sen. Byron Sher (D- Palo Alto) that would have made it easier for lawyers to use statistical evidence in lawsuits to link "smoking and the number of smoking related-illnesses, and thereby win damages or reimbursements for health care costs." Twenty-one votes were needed to approve the bill, but 18 senators voted to approve it and 16 voted against it. Supporters blamed the failure on an intense lobbying campaign. But opponents said the bill would unjustly limit a judge's authority to admit evidence (Matthews, Sacramento Bee, 4/16). Sen. Dede Alpert (D- Coronado) said, "Why have different standards for tobacco than other products? I'm just not sure it's right." But Sen. Joseph Dunn (D-Laguna Niguel) said, "This bill is necessary to give our public entities a real tool to recover tax dollars they should not have had to spend in the first place" (Lawrence, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/16).