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No Need for NC to Join Tobacco Wars

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RALEIGH — For years, it was simply a field of dreams. Now, its a battlefield withattorneys general and tobacco companies leading their troops into thetobacco talks.

The talks are at a crucial point. There are reports of only oneunresolved issue, and that's whether tobacco companies should pay punitivedamages. With a possible multi-billion dollar settlement near, there arequestions why North Carolina is not joining the list of states suing thetobacco companies.

The simple answer is that we don't have to. According to our AttorneyGeneral, if there is a settlement, North Carolina will be included in thepayout. And if figures at the talks Tuesday are accurate, we could betalking about more than $6 billion for North Carolina over thenext 25 years.

Thirty-seven states are going to battle filing suit against tobaccocompanies in order to recoup the health care costs of treating smokers.North Carolina is missing from the list despite the fact that this statedoles out big money to treat smokers.

According to the American Lung Association, every year in North Carolina,more than 11,000 people die from smoking related diseases. Andtaxpayers pay out more than $830 million every year in smoking-relatedmedical costs. Attorney General Mike Easley says he's right wherehe wants to be.

With a settlement drawing near, the outcome could mean legislation. Inthat case, North Carolina would share with every other state. Our statehas nothing to lose-- not a dime for not filing a lawsuit.

If a settlement is reached, Easley says it will be nationwide. Thetobacco companies have talked about settling by paying out $300 billionover 25 years. If that happens, it will be divided amongall states, not just the ones listed on the lawsuit. But a settlement isnot a certainty.

Easley emphasizes that the legalities are more difficult than peoplethink.There are many players with many different interests to accommodate.

If a settlement is not reached in Washington, North Carolina wouldhave to either negotiate with the tobacco companies themselves, or fileits own lawsuit.

Right now, there's a state law that prevents Easley from filing a lawsuitto recoup health care costs from the tobacco companies.

Non-smokers do have one major advantage to gain in the tobacco talks. Foryears, all of us have been paying the price for smoking-related illnesses.Any monetary settlement would result in years of payments by tobaccocompanies to the states. But the burden of that payoff would shift tothose who smoke in the form of higher cigaratte prices.

Industry experts say cigarette prices could jump as much a 70 cents apack tocover the cost of a settlement.

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