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Fifteen Years after the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement: Successes and Challenges

The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) joined Legacy and RTI International, a non-profit research institute, in hosting an Oct. 23 panel discussion to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). The event, held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., brought together attorneys general and experts in public health and tobacco control to discuss the successes and challenges of the largest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history.

“Upon the 15th anniversary of the MSA, it’s a good time for us to take stock of its successes, challenge convention and consider its shortcomings, and to look forward to see how it might continue to save lives from the scourge of tobacco,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden who moderated the event. He is chair of Legacy's Board of Directors and is a former co-chair of the NAAG Tobacco Committee.

In 1998, the MSA between the major tobacco companies, 46 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories helped change the face of tobacco control.The remaining four states signed individual agreements with the tobacco companies. One of the settlement’s central purposes was to reduce smoking – particularly youth smoking – in the United States. Since 1997, U.S. cigarette consumption has declined by more than 40 percent, and smoking among high schoolers has been cut by more than half. The MSA, by requiring large annual payments from the cigarette companies, has increased the price of cigarettes and as a result, reduced the demand for them, particularly among price-sensitive youth.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who served as a panelist, said, “I believe that the tobacco settlement has been an incredible public policy and public health success.” Attorney General Miller is a member of the Legacy Board of Directors and a former NAAG Tobacco Committee co-chair.

The settlement continues to compensate states for their smoking-related health care costs and changed how the cigarette companies market their products. Cartoons, billboards, free samples, branded merchandise, sponsorships, and brand appearances in movies have been eliminated or drastically reduced. Attorneys general have actively enforced the settlement, bringing numerous lawsuits over the years to hold the companies to account for violating its marketing restrictions.

The settlement also provided funding for smoking prevention programs and established Legacy. Both have contributed over the past 15 years to creating a new social climate that discourages tobacco use. Another important development since the settlement is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was granted legislative authority in 2009 to regulate tobacco products.

Challenges for the Future

However, how states are using the MSA yearly funds, evolving tobacco industry marketing practices, emerging products and more, pose challenges for the future.

Tobacco companies have shifted their marketing focus to areas not specifically governed by the settlement, such as the Internet, direct mail, point-of-sale, and age-restricted venues. New products, some reflecting new technologies, also raise issues, including whether those products target youth and whether companies are misrepresenting their health consequences.

These topics and more were covered during the panel discussion, which was webcast. In addition to Attorneys General Wasden and Miller, the speakers were former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore and representatives from RTI, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

NAAG staff remains dedicated to helping the attorneys general of the settling states interpret, implement, and enforce the MSA. The Association is devoted to maintaining and strengthening the agreement and state regulation of the tobacco industry over the long term.

To watch the archived webcast: http://www.legacyforhealth.org/what-we-do/warner-series/fifteen-years-after-the-master-settlement-agreement-msa-successes-and-challenges

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Michael Moore,<i> left</i>, makes a point while AGs Miller and Wasden listen during October 23, tobacco event.
Former Mississippi AG Mike Moore, left makes a point while AGs Miller and Wasden listen during October 23, tobacco event

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