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N.C. To Benefit in the Billions from National Tobacco Settlement

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RALEIGH — North Carolina could reap $5 billion over 25 years from a national tobacco settlement expected to be signed Monday. The state could get billions more later.

Negotiators for eight states and the nation's four largest tobacco makers reached an agreement on a $206.5 billion deal Saturday.

North CarolinaAttorney General Mike Easleyis set to sign the settlement today in Raleigh. The settlement figure goes through 2025, but Easley says the deal continues indefinitely, meaning states will get money as long as tobacco sales continue.

Next, Easley says he'll resume working on the piece of the plan that pertains to tobacco growers.

Seven other states have until Friday to sign on to the deal or take their chances challenging the tobacco industry in court.

Easley answered questions Monday during WRAL's Noon News. WRAL:How will settlement affect North Carolina communities dependent on tobacco? Easley:Well, two ways I hope. First of all, that the money that comes into North Carolina can be used in a number of ways, and I hope that the state will put together some commission or some work force that will look toward the communities. To see if those tobacco dependent communities need any assistance over the next few years, and if so, the money will be there to do it. And secondly, it would bring stability to the farmer, and that's something we've needed for a long time, since these suits were filed. WRAL:You are quoted as saying North Carolina is in a "state of denial" on tobacco. What do you mean by that? Easley:I think that North Carolina has to recognize that there may be some vulnerable communities out there. The big farmers are in good shape, the economy is strong, but there are some smaller farmers and some vulnerable farmers that we have to look at to see if there are needs that have to be addressed. And we just can't accept this money and move forward. We have to stop and take a look and see what needs to be done in this state. WRAL:Should some of the money be spent to help pay for the cost of treating sick smokers in our state? Easley:Definitely, yes. There is plenty of money to go around here and I think a great deal of it will go to public health. I just hope that in phase two, the industry sees the farmer as part of the extended family and does something very meaningful. I'm confident that they will. And I hope, at the same time, the legislature will want to use some of this money to deal with the communities that are tobacco dependent. WRAL:What can tobacco farmers do to make up for their loss of revenue? Easley:Well, I think that is something we'll have to deal with the industry on. That's something we're discussing today, which is why I'm in Raleigh instead of Washington, D.C. with the other attorneys general. I hope to have a plan soon. WRAL:What will be the impact in terms of people who smoke? Easley:I think you'll see an an increase on the wholesale level of 35 cents a pack. I don't know yet what it would be on the retail level.