Md. expected to settle with tobacco industry Other states' acceptance pushes officials to deal

November 20, 1998|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Joanna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. will announce a decision on a tobacco settlement today, amid indications he will reluctantly sign a deal he has described as deeply flawed but that could pay the state more than $4.2 billion over 25 years.

Deputy Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard consulted again last night with Gov. Parris N. Glendening to review the situation as word came in that several of the states that Maryland had hoped would join it in holding out decided to sign.

Shepard, who has worked to rally states to resist the pressure to settle, said a final decision would not be made until today. "We have until noon Friday, and we'll take until noon Friday," she said.

Of the 46 states that have not settled with cigarette makers, 22 had announced publicly by last night that they would accept the deal. Gary Black, a leading tobacco industry analyst in New York, predicted that all would sign by the deadline.

Health advocates, who have criticized the deal as riddled with loopholes, said they, too, believed Maryland would sign.

"Sadly, it sounds like the other states are giving in," said Glenn E. Schneider, acting director of Smoke Free Maryland, the anti-tobacco coalition of health groups. "We heard today we lost Wisconsin and Michigan."

Those states, along with Massachusetts, Missouri and Connecticut, were seen as candidates to join Maryland in rejecting the deal and pressing ahead with their cases. But Massachusetts and Missouri, too, were reported yesterday to be leaning toward signing.

Smoke Free Maryland has urged Curran to reject the deal, but Schneider said his group recognizes that the attorney general has to weigh the possibility of losing in court.

"We don't think Maryland can be the only holdout," Schneider said. "The risk is too great."

Curran calculated that if several states had not settled by April, when Maryland's lawsuit is scheduled for trial, the industry might fear a big verdict that could influence juries in other states. That fear might prompt industry lawyers to make a better offer on the eve of trial, as occurred in Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Minnesota.

If Maryland were the only state that had not settled, the industry might take a chance on a verdict here. A jury award might fall short of the $4.2 billion settlement offer, and a verdict would not result in a ban on tobacco billboards, one of the most substantial features of the settlement.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he urged Curran and Glendening to settle.

"I feel it's a win-win [situation] for the state of Maryland," he said. "Anti-tobacco activists can continue to push for more restrictions or higher taxes -- this doesn't curtail that activity at all. And I consider this money a windfall. I believe we can use the money to make the state the first in the nation in education."

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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