AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine won’t have to forfeit nearly $50 million in payments from tobacco companies following a decision Wednesday by a federal panel of retired judges.
Attorney General Janet Mills on Thursday hailed the decision as a win for Mainers who have fallen victim to the “deceptive practices” of tobacco companies. According to Mills, the decision means Maine won’t have to return $44 million already paid to the state and will receive another $5 million that tobacco companies have withheld pending Wednesday’s decision.
At issue is the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, in which Maine and 47 other states became eligible for annual cash payments from tobacco companies in exchange for states dropping lawsuits against those companies from ongoing costs of treating tobacco-related illnesses.
In 2003, according to Mills, tobacco companies began withholding portions of their payments to states like Maine, claiming that those states were not enforcing laws against tobacco companies who were not part of the 1998 settlement.
“This is a big win for the people of the state of Maine who continue to pay the price due to the deceptive practices of the tobacco companies,” said Mills in a prepared statement. “Every year in Maine thousands of adults will die from tobacco use and thousands more, including kids, will get sick from tobacco-related illnesses. It is unconscionable that cigarette manufacturers are still trying to slip out of their obligations under the Master Settlement Agreement. I am hopeful that this decision will show that these corporations cannot escape liability for the deadly products they sell.”
The panel of retired federal judges who rejected the tobacco companies’ claims on Wednesday found that Maine is one of nine states that are in compliance with the settlement while nine other states are not. The decision affects payments to Maine for 2003; the cigarette manufacturers are also making similar challenges for more recent years. Hearing on those claims by the companies have not yet been held.
The tobacco settlement funds flow into the state’s Fund for a Healthy Maine, a pool of money that is used mostly for health care programs and disease prevention, school-based health centers and offsetting Medicaid costs due to tobacco use. Maine has received approximately $700 million from the tobacco companies since 2000.
Check bangordailynews.com for updates.