Md. to fight smoking with payoff

Tobacco settlement expected to be spent on expanding programs

Announcement due today

Funds also slated for cancer research and farm conversion

June 03, 1999|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to announce today that Maryland will use its share of the tobacco settlement to greatly expand the battle against smoking, funnel millions to cancer research and help tobacco farmers convert to other crops.

Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, who resigned in April as Maryland health secretary, has been tapped as a sort of anti-tobacco czar to oversee efforts to prevent young people from starting to smoke and to help adults quit, sources said yesterday.

The announcement, scheduled for this morning at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, will reveal the governor's plans for the $4.4 billion that the state will receive over 25 years to settle its lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Initial reaction yesterday from health advocates and legislators who have heard general descriptions of the plan was positive.

"We're happy with this as a foundation," said Glenn E. Schneider, community organizer for the anti-tobacco coalition Smoke Free Maryland. "It's the biggest step forward in tobacco-use prevention in Maryland in many years."

"After this announcement tomorrow, we're going to be calling Parris Glendening `The Cancer Avenger,' " said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

The spending priorities were set in large part by the General Assembly this spring in a compromise that will increase the state's cigarette tax from 36 cents per pack to 66 cents per pack July 1.

New legislation requires that at least $21 million be spent annually on anti-smoking campaigns in the media and in schools, on enforcement of laws against the sale of tobacco products to minors, and on smoking-cessation programs.

That is approximately 10 times more than the state has spent on such programs in recent years, said Schneider.

In addition, at least $10 million a year is expected to go to the University of Maryland's Greenebaum Cancer Center for research and treatment. The Johns Hopkins University is also expected to play a role, though details yesterday were unclear.

Three task forces

According to health advocates, the governor will announce three task forces -- one to devise programs to reduce smoking; a second to advise on ways to reduce cancer deaths; and a third to study how tobacco farmers can be persuaded to switch crops.

Eric Galley, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society in Maryland, said those groups and other health organizations have been asked to recommend candidates for the task forces.

"We don't have specifics," Galley said. "But when they call us and ask us who are the best people in the field, it gives us a good feeling."

The General Assembly voted to create a "Cigarette Restitution Fund" with the tobacco money and to require the governor to spend at least $100 million each year from the fund, or 90 percent of the money that the fund contains, whichever is less. Because Maryland's share of the tobacco settlement will average more than $150 million a year, the annual allocation is likely to be $100 million.

Under the law, at least half of the annual allocation must be spent on specific purposes -- anti-tobacco programs, research on and treatment of tobacco-related diseases, health care for the uninsured, and substance-abuse treatment.

Nationally, the tobacco industry has agreed to pay $246 billion over 25 years to all 50 states, and governors and legislators in many states have squabbled over how the money should be spent.

Other states' plans

A recent report by the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found many states are not choosing to spend the tobacco windfall on the anti-tobacco cause.

In a third of the states, the report said, less than 2 percent of the settlement money was slated for tobacco prevention programs. North Dakota planned to spend the money to renovate the state morgue. California was allocating some of the money to repair sidewalks in Los Angeles.

Against that background, Maryland health advocates yesterday pronounced Glendening's plans encouraging. "We look forward to working with the governor and his staff to create a comprehensive program to significantly reduce tobacco use," said Dr. Albert L. Blumberg, president of Smoke Free Maryland.

Sun staff writers Michael Dresser and Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.

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