Maine files suit to protect tobacco settlement funds

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AUGUSTA (AP) – Attorney General Steven Rowe on Wednesday asked a Maine court to declare that the state is entitled to its full annual $50 million share of a settlement of lawsuits against tobacco companies.

The state received $44.5 million of the total from the tobacco companies this week, Rowe said.

State attorneys filed the papers in Kennebec County Superior Court several days after tobacco companies set aside more than $700 million rather than hand it over to the states in a dispute over how much cigarette makers owe this year under the 1998 master settlement.

Maine was among the 46 states that agreed in 1998 not to sue cigarette makers for the public health harm caused by their products, in exchange for annual payments in perpetuity.

The tobacco companies say they do not have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars set aside because of a provision in the settlement that allows the cigarette makers to pay less if they have lost market share to smaller companies that weren’t part of the deal.

In his court filing, Rowe says Maine entitled to its full annual payment because the state has diligently enforced laws requiring cigarette manufacturers that did not participate in the settlement to pay into escrow accounts.

“Maine has an impeccable record of upholding our end of the settlement agreement,” Rowe said. “Our enforcement has been more than diligent; it has been dogged and determined.”

Rowe added that the Maine Legislature has allocated the tobacco money for health purposes that will have long-term benefits.

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