U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp is today highlighting the 15-year anniversary of the major tobacco settlement she helped broker as North Dakota's Attorney General. The agreement between 46 states and the tobacco industry was signed on November 23, 1998.
The settlement resulted in the award of about $336 million to North Dakota taxpayers to date and required tobacco companies to tell the truth about smoking and health. It was one of the largest civil settlements in U.S. history. When very little of this funding was being spent on anti-tobacco programs as intended, Heitkamp led a successful ballot initiative in 2008 that mandated significant increases.
"The day we signed the settlement with the tobacco industry 15 years ago was one of the most satisfying moments in my career of public service," said Heitkamp. "Battling the tobacco companies was incredibly difficult, but my goal of improving the lives and protecting the health of North Dakota children motivated me to get it done. Now in the Senate, I'm continuing that mission and working to strengthen tobacco-control policies that promote public health and reduce tobacco-related deaths."
Heitkamp expressed her concern last week to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman regarding the USTR's Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Proposal, which may allow tobacco companies to use trade law to subvert domestic tobacco control measures.
"The final TTP language should recognize this dangerous trend and prevent further abuses of trade laws related to domestic tobacco control legislation," Heitkamp wrote in a letter with 10 of her Senate colleagues. "The United States should be leading the fight against death and disease from tobacco products, which are a uniquely dangerous threat to public health."
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of deaths worldwide, taking 6.3 million lives a year, including 1,200 Americans daily. The United States spends nearly $200 billion a year for tobacco-related illness and injury, and lost productivity. Unless serious, urgent action is taken, tobacco will kill one billion people worldwide this century.