Negotiators for producers and state attorneys general held secret talks in recent weeks in an effort to devise a new tobacco settlement proposal, state officials and lawyers with knowledge of the discussions say.
The talks, which follow the collapse last month of a $516 billion comprehensive tobacco bill in the Senate, apparently grew out of a court-ordered effort to mediate a coming smoking-related lawsuit by the state of Washington against the tobacco industry.The negotiations then expanded to include officials from other states with pending lawsuits, including New York, California and Colorado.
One lawyer, who represents numerous states in actions against cigarette producers, said that talks had broken off Wednesday night over monetary and other issues. And another person close to the tobacco industry confirmed that the talks had broken off over money.
But two state officials, who insisted on anonymity, said that they had been told Thursday by colleagues that the talks were still alive and that they would be discussed during a national meeting of state attorneys general expected to start Monday outside Durango, Colo.
"The attorneys general have always said that if Plan A didn't work then we would always go with Plan B," said Jeffrey Modisett, the attorney general of Indiana.
Last June, the tobacco industry and 40 state attorneys general reached a $368.5 billion settlement plan that, if approved by Congress, would have settled lawsuits by states and smokers, restricted advertising by tobacco companies and required producers to pay fines if youth smoking rates did not decline. In return, the producers would have received protection from certain types of lawsuits and claims for punitive damages in smoking-related cases.
But a tobacco bill introduced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., increased the settlement figure to $516 billion while lawmakers removed the legal protections sought by the industry. As a result, tobacco producers withdrew from last year's accord and launched an intense effort that helped derail the McCain bill.