Inaction Threaten State’s Tobacco Money

     JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Tobacco has been the gift that kept on giving, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said, but the gravy train may be derailed unless the state passes tougher legislation on foreign tobacco makers.

     The state received more than $155 million in tobacco settlement money in April. That brings Missouri’s total receipts from the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to more than $1.5 billion.
     But Missouri faces a national arbitration on whether it has diligently enforced its laws on the 2003 settlement payment, and it will likely face similar challenges for each subsequent year. Koster said a ruling against Missouri could result in the loss of $140 million in annual settlement payments.
     “Let me be clear, the potential exists that Missouri could lose its share of its tobacco-settlement dollars if the national panel finds that Missouri failed to diligently enforce its laws,” Koster said in a statement. “If this were to occur, it would be one of the greatest wastes of public resources in recent history. I urge the Legislature to take action, particularly against foreign manufacturers of contraband cigarettes.”
     Koster said the other 45 states that participated in the settlement have enacted laws to aid in enforcement. Although bills were introduced in the Missouri House and Senate this session, for the fifth time in seven years Missouri failed to enact the additional enforcement legislation.

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