Anti-Tobacco Fight Is Now Tale of Two Attorneys General
Suing states debate the merits of a settlement
The two attorneys general - one from Mississippi, one from Minnesota - are long-time foes of the tobacco industry.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Mississippi's Mike Moore became the first attorney general to sue cigarettemakers to recover the state's cost of treating smokers. He stood up to state Gov. Kirk Fordice (R), who tried to prevent him from bringing the lawsuit. He used whistleblowers to find information the tobacco companies did not want made public.
Up north, meanwhile, Hubert Humphrey III has spent the past three years digging up industry secrets in preparation for a suit brought by Minnesota. The state has accumulated 30 million pages of information about the industry, which has spent more than $125 million and hired 1,000 legal staff to try to stop him.
Now, the two men find themselves at odds over the next step in their historic march against the tobacco giants. Mr. Moore leads an effort to reach a broad settlement with the industry - one that presumably would extract enough concessions to satisfy 30 other states that have also sued, but that would grant tobacco companies some degree of liability protection in any future lawsuits. Mr. Humphrey, on the other hand, argues it's too soon to settle.
Their different views help to explain why a settlement may not be possible. The two epitomize an internal debate raging within the antismoking camp - and time may be running out to settle with Big Tobacco before the first trial begins in Mississippi July 7.
Moore has called a meeting of the attorneys general tomorrow in Dallas. "If we can't do something in the next one to two weeks, then we must go forward with the trial," says Trey Bobinger, assistant attorney general for the Magnolia State.
Mississippi officials say they are ready to go to trial. But Mr. Bobinger says, "What if Mississippi wins and Minnesota loses? Where are the citizens of Minnesota? ... The litigation may be the best alternative we have, but it's not a foolproof plan."
Minnesota's Humphrey, a go-for-the-jugular pit bull of an attorney, argues the tobacco industry will grant more concessions as damaging material becomes public. In January, he hopes to begin combing through 150,000 documents that the industry has tried to keep private.
"These are probably the real jewels, the ones the industry has not wanted anyone to see, and we believe there is some revealing information there," Humphrey said during a recent interview at the American Lung Association annual meeting in San Francisco.
BIG Tobacco for decades has battled each and every damage suit, but it came to the negotiating table two months ago in a weakened position. Among concessions that may be included in a pact: hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for treating smoking-related illnesses, dramatic changes in tobacco advertising, financing for antismoking programs, and a plan enabling the US Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco as a drug. In return, the industry wants some economic certainty - some way to limit damages from a flood of lawsuits.
As Moore considers the likelihood that Mississippi will proceed to trial, he may wonder if he is fully armed. Moore and his outside legal counsel, Dick Scruggs, do not have the same documents that Humphrey and his outside legal counsel, Michael Ciresi, possess. Instead, they will count on testimony from a Brown & Williamson whistleblower, Jeffrey Wigand, who tried to get the Louisville, Ky., tobacco company to produce a safer cigarette.