Maybe they'll deal.
Maybe they'll go to court.Certainly, they will pressure Congress and President Clinton to try once more to hammer out a solution to the tobacco wars in the remaining days of the congressional session.
A confab of attorneys general meeting in Durango, Colo., this week brought each other up to speed on secret meetings with cigarette makers and retooled their strategies for dealing with the formidable tobacco industry.
And health and tobacco education advocates in Utah - who are carefully monitoring the Durango meetings - are urging officials not to give away the store in negotiations with Big Tobacco.
"We hope they will negotiate a good deal with the industry - one that will have long-term benefits - not just take a big paycheck home," said Doug Vilnius, who is project director of the Robert Wood Johnson Smokeless States Project.
Four states have settled lawsuits that sought to recoup smoking-related health-care costs. The tobacco companies, however, could face similar lawsuits from 37 states - including Utah.
Utah Attorney General Jan Graham did not attend the Durango meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General because of scheduling and family conflicts, but Chief of Staff Palmer DePaulis has been in the thick of the discussions.
"The states have agreed among themselves that the states will be open to any proposal that the tobacco companies put on the table regarding negotiating toward a settlement of the states' lawsuits," DePaulis said.
A $368.5 billion settlement crafted by the attorneys died in the U.S. Senate in June when several amendments pushed the cost to $516 billion.
The money, raised in part by adding $1.10 to each pack of cigarettes over five years, would have reimbursed states for their smoking-related health-care costs, financed an anti-smoking campaign and allowed the federal Food and Drug Administration to regulate nicotine.
Rumors ran last week that a handful of attorneys general had been individually negotiating settlements with cigarette makers.
After several closed-door meetings early this week, DePaulis said the states have uniformly agreed on an approach:
- They will continue to prepare their individual lawsuits. "There will be no pulling back from a full-court press on the legal issues," he said.
- The states will continue to pressure Congress and the president to reach a national settlement.
- And the states will be open to any proposal from the tobacco companies.
Five chosen negotiators will work directly with the tobacco companies, DePaulis said, "but if something is acceptable, other states could decide for themselves if they wanted to join."
DePaulis said he couldn't discuss details of the talks.
Two things concern Vilnius and his colleagues nationally about the talks going on in Durango: first, that the group of five attorneys general that is dealing with the tobacco companies is sympathetic to the enormous industry; and second, that the items on the table for discussion don't consider long-term implications.
Attorneys general from California, Colorado, North Carolina, New York, Washington and Massachusetts will continue talking to the tobacco industry about settling lawsuits.
Many health advocates regard California's Attorney General Dan Lundgren, New York's Dennis Vacco and North Carolina's Michael Easley as "pro-tobacco."
"The public health community is going to have to be particularly vigilant about this crowd," Stan Glantz, of the national organization Smoke Screen, wrote in an e-mail to Vilnius.
Washington is the next state to take on the tobacco companies. The trial is scheduled to start Sept. 14.
Mississippi, Minnesota, Texas and Florida have settled lawsuits that sought to recoup smoking-related health-care costs.
National tobacco education advocates believe some of the following issues are being discussed, according to Vilnius. "It appears, based on rumor these negotiations are basically about money, not about policy."
Negotiations may include the following:
- $200 billion over 25 years and some restrictions on advertising to youths.
- Language that prohibits local governments from anything stricter than national regulations regarding tobacco policy.
- Language that prohibits states from suing the industry in the future.
- Language that makes the tobacco industry a player in tobacco-related policymaking in the states arena. "That's totally unacceptable," Vilnius said.
"If they put together a milque-toast agreement that doesn't really address the substantive issue about tobacco policy, there will be a lot of fanfare: `They did this really great thing,' " Vilnius said.
"There will be a perception that the deed is done and the issue is resolved when in fact . . . we will still have quite a bit to do."