Signing tobacco deal was the easy part The burden: Leaders must keep up the pressure, resolve differences and use the settlement's dollars wisely.

November 25, 1998

EVEN AS the deal was signed, the impact of the $206 billion settlement between tobacco manufacturers and 46 states was felt: Philip Morris USA, the largest of the five companies involved, and R.J. Reynolds Co. raised cigarette prices 45 cents a pack.

It was generally accepted that smokers ultimately would foot the entire bill, thereby costing the companies relatively little while permitting the industry to reap greater profits. Higher prices for tobacco products should be a potent deterrent.

But it was also understood that the 46 state governments, as well as five territories and the District of Columbia, have an arsenal of weapons still at their disposal. Their duty now that tedious litigation is over is to use them unsparingly.

The fight to curb the addictive and dangerous habit moves to other arenas. In Maryland, residents expect their leaders to live up to their promises to be diligent at that next level.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., along with legislative leaders, must keep down the infighting over how the state's $4.2 billion share of the settlement will be spent.

The governor has said a good portion must go to anti-smoking education efforts, aimed particularly at children. Mr. Curran noted that 60 Maryland kids pick up the habit daily. Political leaders must also come up with a plan to help a dubious tobacco farmers switch to other crops.

Mr. Glendening, Mr. Curran and other Democrats must persuade reluctant Republican lawmakers to agree to raise cigarette taxes and restrict use of vending machines. The legislature has twice refused to raise taxes and has hesitated to limit the machines' use.

Maryland had what was regarded as the strongest lawsuit against the industry. The governor and attorney general decided to forgo further litigation and join in the settlement.

That decision places the onus on them, and the other government signees, to make sure the terms are adhered to by the tobacco companies. If not, they should go back to court.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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