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BILLIONS OF DIRTY DOLLARS

Forty-six of our United States have just accepted a $206 billion deal from the tobacco industry in exchange for the states' promise to knock off suing the cigarette makers to get back money they've spent treating patients with lung cancer and other smoking-related ailments. Four other states have already settled with the tobacco companies for $40 billion.

For the states to be getting a grand total of $246 billion free and clear may sound like a great idea but it's a disgrace. Government agencies ought to be trying to eliminate the cigarette menace any way they can. But with all that easy money coming into their coffers, you can't expect that state governments will want to discourage cigarette sales or be enthusiastic about putting the tobacco companies out of business. If they did, they wouldn't get all that money. They'd be killing the goose laying those golden billions.

While I have no idea why they decided on that figure instead of $264 billion or $426 billion, I think the payment is outrageous. Where do the states think the cigarette industry is going to get the money to pay them?

They're raising the price of a pack by 45 cents, but that isn't where they'll get most of it. They're going to get it by selling more cigarettes that could kill more people, and mostly in countries other than the United States. They couldn't set out to kill as many people if they started dropping nuclear bombs at random on cities in foreign countries.

We're all proud of being Americans, but R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris sell two-thirds of their cigarettes in other countries. In the past 10 years, sales abroad have increased 250 percent. Our cigarette companies advertise extensively in almost every foreign country, and it's paying off. In Russia, the percentage of male smokers has increased from 50 percent to 65 percent in 10 years. The percentage of Russian women who smoke now, compared to the number who used to, has tripled in 10 years. Some liberation.

Tobacco companies are promising not to use advertising in the United States that will appeal to children, but you know they're going to get that $246 billion, and a lot more for themselves, somewhere. If they can't advertise here, they'll advertise and attract children in China, Russia and Africa. Instead of killing Americans, they'll kill Chinese, Russians and Africans by hooking them on tobacco when they're young. This is the states' idea of a good thing to do?

You can bet that, as the death rate from cigarette smoking rises abroad, as it will, the natives are going to start pointing an accusing finger at the source of those illnesses -- the United States. We will have given them one more reason to hate us.

The buyout was widely accepted as a victory for the anti-cigarette people. But if this huge payment the tobacco industry has agreed to is such a victory for non-smokers and states, how come the tobacco people are so pleased with it? The day the deal was announced, Philip Morris stock went up. Someone in the cigarette business must have thought it was good news for them. And you can depend on this: If it's good news for them, it's bad news for us and the rest of the world.

The states should be united on something other than accepting a multibillion dollar handout from the tobacco companies. Their total effort should be in working to eliminate cigarettes from our lives by halting their manufacture.

Tribune media services

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