For years, the big tobacco companies refused to admit smoking killed, and even targeted their marketing campaigns at kids, trying to add new smokers to the millions of people already addicted to cigarettes.
Heidi believed they should be held accountable for the terrible toll taken by tobacco use -- the lost lives, devastating diseases and enormous health care costs. As attorney general, she represented North Dakota and 12 other states in their battle against big tobacco.
When Heidi first sat down at the negotiating table, North Dakota's share of the settlement was projected to be $423 million over 25 years. Through tough negotiation, Heidi increased North Dakota's share up to $866 million before the agreement was signed.
Thanks to that settlement, big tobacco had to stop advertising its dangerous products to kids, and those companies pay millions to North Dakota to fund health and education, including efforts to reduce rates of teen smoking.
We're now in the 13th year of the settlement, and so far North Dakota has received over $336 million. More than $130 million has been deposited in the common school trust fund to help pay for kindergarten and grade school education, and to lower property taxes. Projects to deliver clean water to North Dakota households and to build permanent flood relief have received more than $130 million dollars. Additional payments will be made to the state each year.
That's a great accomplishment. And while Heidi was thrilled the tobacco money was helping fund education, clean water and flood control, she saw that too little was dedicated to reducing youth smoking.
"The tobacco money was supposed to help North Dakotans stop smoking, and stop kids from starting. We weren't setting aside enough to really make a dent in teen smoking," Heidi says. "Something needed to change."
So, she led a campaign to put a measure on the ballot that directed more money to anti-smoking programs. That would not only save lives but also save money. North Dakota voters approved the measure in the 2008 election.
And it's working. Since Heidi's measure passed, teen smoking and teen use of all tobacco products have dropped in North Dakota. The Fargo Forum praised the effort, saying that since the measure passed, "North Dakota has become a national leader in developing tobacco control and prevention programs."
"We're using the tobacco settlement to help people quit, and we're convincing young people never to start. These programs are saving kids' lives and saving health care dollars," says Heidi