Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release --June 25, 1998.
Contact Bob Brammer, 515-281-6699

A report on the "Tobacco Wars" and the situation in Iowa

Statement of Attorney General Tom Miller -- June 25, 1998:

I was exceedingly disappointed when the Senate killed the comprehensive tobacco bill last week. Just one year ago, on June 20, 1997, when forty state attorneys general negotiated a prototype or framework for such a comprehensive agreement, we presented the Congress with a superb foundation for legislation to stop all tobacco marketing to children, raise the price of cigarettes, slash youth smoking, mount a massive counter-marketing campaign, regulate nicotine, and ensure justice. We handed the ball off to the Congress and gave it an opportunity to forge an even better comprehensive solution. For the moment, that opportunity is lost.
I say "for the moment" because Congress still can act. And it must act. Make no mistake, this effort is about improving the public health and protecting people -- especially our children.

There are two compelling reasons why Congress must act, and why time is of the essence:

First, over the last year, more than one million children have begun smoking. Second, one-third of them will eventually die prematurely from smoking-related disease. In Iowa, 5,000 persons die each year from tobacco-related disease, and they are replaced mainly by children who face a similar fate. We cannot tolerate this kind of harm to our people and burden on our taxpayers.

I applaud Sen. Harkin and Sen. Grassley for supporting the comprehensive legislation, and I wish them all good fortune in efforts to revive a good bill in Congress. It would be unconscionable for the Congress to quit without tackling tobacco.

What about Iowa? Our lawsuit, which was filed on November 27, 1996, continues. It will come to trial next year, assuming no comprehensive settlement in Washington. It contains several important causes of action that we are pursuing aggressively, including consumer fraud and conspiracy. However, a key part of the lawsuit was rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court, namely the common law indemnity claim to recover the huge costs that Iowa taxpayers pay in Medicaid to care for low-income Iowans suffering tobacco related illnesses. If there is no comprehensive settlement, I will again ask the Iowa Legislature to enact a clear, direct statutory cause of action that would aid us in recovering these Medicaid costs.

Four other states have settled their cases (FL, MS, TX, MN) for about $36 billion over 25 years. More than a billion dollars are at stake in Iowa -- money that could be used to combat teen smoking, to cut taxes, or to accomplish a hundred other worthy goals in our state.

Every month, Iowa taxpayers spend millions of dollars to care for Medicaid patients suffering from tobacco-related disease -- while tobacco companies reap huge profits from tobacco sales, money that should be used to pay these costs, instead of Iowa taxpayers. (Iowa taxpayers are paying twice, in fact! Iowa smokers are paying 10-20 cents more per pack to cover the four states' settlements, and we all are paying state Medicaid costs.)

No state should be left behind in recovering such Medicaid funds. And I believe no state will be left behind. Some states have received favorable court rulings (e.g., MA and WI) and are poised for success in court or settlement. Others received unfavorable court decisions and then have enacted the statutes (first FL, then VT and MD) that put those states in a strong position. Ultimately, I believe no state will be left behind, and I will be there to ask the Iowa Legislature to make sure this is so.

Meanwhile, our other efforts continue on every front where we think we can have an impact -- strengthening enforcement, and improving State laws, such as prohibiting vending machines and requiring behind-the-counter sales to cut shop-lifting and illegal sales.

I want to applaud the tireless and effective efforts of our allies in the health community, who are kindling grass roots efforts that both help cut smoking and keep the heat on Congress -- despite Big Tobacco's $40 million public relations campaign to scuttle the national bill.

I am not discouraged, but I am resolved -- resolved to see this struggle to a successful conclusion here in Iowa and in the Nation. We wage this struggle for Iowa taxpayers, for our kids, and for our future. And I am confident we will succeed.

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