Diversion of Funds in Ohio Sets Dangerous Precedent
WASHINGTON, April 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a concerted effort to preserve Ohio's tobacco settlement dollars for their originally intended use, the American Legacy Foundation has asked the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas for permission to intervene in the ongoing litigation regarding whether these state funds, wisely dedicated by the State to tobacco prevention and control, can now be diverted for other purposes. The Foundation - the nation's public health foundation devoted solely to tobacco control and prevention - has also asked the court to declare that the contract it signed with the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation (OTPF) is valid.
"We did not ask for these funds, but we are proud to fight to secure them - and keep them dedicated to the cause of tobacco control in Ohio," said Cheryl G. Healton, Dr. P.H., president and chief executive officer of the American Legacy Foundation, which was created as a result of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between 46 states and the major tobacco companies. "We are acutely aware of the price that Ohioans will pay if the state succeeds in diverting these funds from tobacco control. We also know that such an action will set a dangerous precedent for further erosion of the exceedingly small proportion of the MSA funds spent in other states on tobacco control," she said. "If we succeed in our legal claim, we pledge to use these funds for the benefit of Ohio and fully expect that we would create an Ohio office for this purpose."
Research shows that tobacco takes an enormous toll on Ohio - both in lives lost and dollars spent. Ohio's smoking rate is 22.5 percent, above the national average of 20.2 percent. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that tobacco use costs Ohio $4 billion every year in lost productivity and $3.4 billion in health care costs. A 2007 report by the American Legacy Foundation found that Ohio's Medicaid system could save nearly $550 million within five years if all Medicaid beneficiaries who smoke, quit. Ohio would reap the third largest savings of all the states, making the case that during this economic downturn in Ohio, by keeping these funds focused on tobacco control would in fact be a wiser long-term investment, ultimately saving Ohioans' lives and money.
The MSA provided over $200 billion to be paid to the states over 26 years in recognition of the lives and money lost to tobacco. To ensure that these monies were spent specifically on tobacco control, Ohio established OTPF as the recipient of their funds, and purposely safeguarded them there, outside the auspices of the State Treasury. Most states have spent only a small fraction, if any, of their MSA funds to mitigate the tragic impact of the tobacco epidemic which claims the lives of over 400,000 Americans each year. Now, Ohio is poised to reverse course, joining a growing number of states to deplete these monies for purposes for which they were never intended, squandering precious opportunities to, literally, save lives.
The dispute has been ongoing for the past few weeks. It began when plans were announced to fund an economic stimulus package in part with funds taken from OTPF. OTPF's Board courageously responded by authorizing contracts for $190 million with up to three named organizations in order to assure that the work of tobacco control in Ohio would continue to benefit Ohioans. On April 8, OTPF entered into a contract for this amount with the American Legacy Foundation and provided the state treasurer with instructions to transfer the funds. Later that day, the governor signed into law legislation seeking to liquidate OTPF's endowment. The treasurer did not make the requested payment.
On April 9, OTPF filed a lawsuit asserting that the legislation liquidating its funds violated Ohio constitutional and other legal requirements. On April 10, Judge Fais of the Court of Common Pleas, ordered the maintenance of the status quo until a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled to be held on April 24. On April 16, OTPF's Board tried to withdraw its request that the state treasurer transfer the funds to the American Legacy Foundation.
"Lung cancer is the nation's leading cancer killer," said Bernadette A. Toomey, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association. "If we are to save lives, more - not less - tobacco settlement funds must be devoted to the effort to keep youth from starting to smoke and help smokers quit. By eliminating the vast majority of Ohio's tobacco control funding, the state is effectively turning its back on the number one preventable cause of death - tobacco."
"We applaud the American Legacy Foundation for taking this bold step to protect children from tobacco addiction and save lives in Ohio," said Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "By proposing to gut Ohio's highly successful tobacco prevention program, the Governor and legislative leaders have abandoned Ohio's children and put the state's health at risk. Unless reversed, their decision will guarantee that for years to come more Ohio children will become addicted to tobacco, more Ohio citizens will die prematurely from tobacco use, and Ohio taxpayers will foot the bill for higher health care costs."
The American Legacy Foundation(R) is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns. The foundation's programs include truth(R), a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX(R), an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use; and a nationally-renowned program of outreach to priority populations. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. Visit http://www.americanlegacy.org.
|SOURCE American Legacy Foundation|
Copyright©2008 PR Newswire.
All rights reserved