In the Spotlight

News & Features
The Tobacco Settlement: One Year Later
By Elizabeth Stawicki
May 7, 1999
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

When the tobacco trial ended last year, then-Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey proclaimed the tobacco industry had surrendered on the state's terms. Those terms included $6.1 billion, the end of cigarette billboard advertising in the state, and the industry agreed to stop making comments about the health effects of smoking.

The money has started to come in but little has been spent. State lawmakers have different ideas how to spend it and the board charged with spending about $200 million on anti-smoking efforts is still getting itself organized.

More Information

See the collection of storiesfrom Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of the tobacco trial.

SKIP HUMPHREY STILL BELIEVES Minnesota achieved the seemingly insurmountable: bringing the nearly omnipotent tobacco industry to its knees. But a year later Humphrey has mixed feelings about the settlement's aftermath.
Humphrey: On the one hand, I'm very pleased that we moved ahead on some things but frustrated by the failure of how the dollars are to be used.
Humphrey, who lost a bid for governor, is now a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Just how to divvy up the tobacco booty has dominated much of the legislative session and the issue is still unresolved.

In an effort to sway legislators, anti-smoking advocates marked the trial's one-year anniversary at the State Capitol rotunda. One photograph displayed pictured former Minnesota Twins ballplayer Bill Tuttle. Tuttle died last July of oral cancer from chewing tobacco. His wife Gloria.
Tuttle: I literally jumped up and down when we won that settlement a year ago. But it's been a very hollow victory, because nothing has been done. And we need to set aside at least 11 percent of that money for tobacco prevention.
Governor Ventura and Senate DFLers want to set aside more than $1 billion to set up endowments for public health and family support. House Republicans want to include the one-time money in a tax cut, something Humphrey vehemently opposes.
Humphrey: The best possible public health initiative would be to establish an endowment; putting the money away not spending it, put it away so it makes substantial earnings to be able to fund on an on-going basis the smoking cessation and prevention programs.
The state's partner in the case, Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota got about $470 million from the tobacco settlement. Blue Cross didn't escape debate over how it should spend its money. Some policyholders sued for that money saying they ultimately bore the cost of smoking related illnesses through higher premiums. The suit was dismissed.

The health insurer's president and CEO Andy Czajkowski says Minnesota and Blue Cross were fortunate to reach a settlement at all, particularly when many subsequent cases against the tobacco industry failed.
Czajkowski: As I look back at it now, I think our victory is looking more significant (than) even at this time a year ago mainly because I see other litigation going forward. It appears that our success may turn out to be distinctive in view of other court decisions have been. So, looking back, I think we really accomplished a great deal.
The State's lead attorney in the case, Mike Ciresi, takes pride that attorneys engaged in other tobacco lawsuits are using the once-private - and some say damning - tobacco files which Ciresi's team of lawyers uncovered. At the time of the settlement, Ciresi said he wouldn't take such a case again. He's since changed his mind.
Ciresi: This case was the result of a lot of really good people who put themselves at risk. These people gave up their lives for four years and some of them it affected physically. I could see it, and it was very difficult for them. Would I ask them again? Knowing the individuals, probably because they would do it and the result was well worth the effort.
Minneapolis attorney Peter Sipkins, who assisted counsel for the tobacco companies, agrees the trial was one of the most intense he's experienced.
Sipkins: It was a 24-hours-a-day commitment by the defendant companies, by their attorneys and plaintiff's lawyers. While the energy keeps people going, when the trial is over, that energy dissipates and then you're left with sort of a feeling that "what am i going to do to fill my life?"
When Sipkins looks back on the trial and settlement, he wishes he and the other local attorneys for the tobacco companies would've played a larger role in the case. Because the trial had implications nationally, the tobacco companies gave the lead roles to their own attorneys. Sipkins doesn't claim local attorneys could've won the case, only that they might've had a smoother time with the judge.
Sipkins: The local counsel had a better relationship with Judge Fitzpatrick in particular than the national counsel, and when the national counsel began to play a more major role in the case, Judge Fitzpatrick turned against the defendants. Had the local counsel stayed in there, I think we would've had a fairer trial.
MPR was unable to reach any of the jurors who served on the case. Several of them flirted with financial ruin because of the time they were away from their jobs. Judge Lawrence Cohen says, looking back, he wishes Fitzpatrick would've used better judgment and dismissed some of the jurors for hardship.
Cohen: The sacrifice they made was above and beyond what anybody should have to make on jury duty and points out higher amounts, and the judges owe a duty to be responsible in knowing when to cut somebody from a jury. I guess professionally, I'd have to say that I don't know many judges that would've kept these jurors in this panel; none that I'm aware of.
Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick retired shortly after the trial citing health reasons. He moved, and even former boss, Chief Judge Lawrence Cohen, doesn't know where to find him.

Cohen lobbied the Legislature to pay three of the jurors lump sums for their hardship in serving on the tobacco trial. Those payments range from $4,500 to $17,000. That bill is awaiting Governor Ventura's signature.