This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the legal settlement states reached with the tobacco industry and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says cigarette companies have paid the State of Iowa over half a billion dollars in the past decade.
"It was an incredible battle and fight to get the settlement, file the case and resolve the case," Miller says. "…The most important thing is to look back and see what has happened in the past 10 years and there’s been enormous progress."
In the 1960s, over 40 percent of Americans smoked. Last year, just under 20 percent of Iowa adults smoked — a decline of about four percent in the past decade. "We’ve come a long way, to quote one of their ads for Virginia Slims. We have a long ways to go because there is so much at stake," Miller says. "We still lose 400,000 Americans each year. You know that’s because of the smoking rates of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s."
Ten years ago the tobacco companies agreed to new limits on their advertising in the legal settlement with the states and over the past decade states like Iowa have increased the cost of tobacco by raising taxes. According to Miller, raising the price of cigarettes — by raising taxes — is the most effective way to reduce smoking. "Comparing the number of cigarettes sold in 1997 — 480,000,000,000 — to the number we think will be sold in 2008 — 344,000,000,000 — it’s a reduction of 28 percent of the number of cigarettes that have been sold in America," Miller says. Fewer cigarettes will be sold this year than in 1950, when the U.S. population was about half what it is today.
Miller acknowledges a regret about the legal settlement with the tobacco companies: state legislatures haven’t used much of the payments from tobacco companies on smoking cessation or prevention programs. "I told them to spend it differently year after year and was hoping they’d spend more on tobacco prevention," Miller says. "Iowa spends more than most states, per capita, about $10 million or so of the settlement for tobacco prevention."
Miller smoked in his 20s and 30s. Miller quit in the early 1980s after he told his wife she should quit drinking coffee for health reasons and she told him he should stop smoking. "We had a deal then," Miller says.