In 1998 tobacco manufacturers reached an unprecedented agreement with 46 states, which had sued the companies for engaging in decades of deceptive marketing practices that contributed to an epidemic of tobacco-related illness and death. Over the next 20 years, the industry paid some $125 billion to the states.
But two decades later, only a fraction of the tobacco proceeds less than 3 percent nationally in 2019 has been spent on public health matters related to tobacco use. In New York, some of the money went to a public golf course. Alabama installed security cameras in its schools. And in North Carolina, a portion of the money was dedicated to subsidies for tobacco companies. Today, no state finances tobacco control efforts at the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
The lessons of the tobacco experience are on health officials minds this week, as a wave of legal cases involving a similar public health nightmare starts producing major payments.
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