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For the week of Jan. 19 through Jan. 25, 2000

Spend tobacco money now


Gov. Dirk Kempthorne wants to bank all of the money Idaho received from Big Tobacco as settlement of a nationwide lawsuit. He wants to spend only interest earned.

It sounds prudent, but it puts off the day when Big Tobacco’s ill-gotten gains may begin to stop the scourge it fostered.

Kempthorne will avoid a political fight over what to do with the money, but there should be more to leadership than the avoidance of political bickering. The Legislature should not help the governor stuff all the money into Idaho’s mattress. It should spend some of it now.

Big Tobacco hurt Idahoans. It misled them about the effects of smoking on their health. It took public money as subsidies that people could ill afford. It shoved the burden of paying for treating smoking-related illnesses onto individuals and businesses.

Big Tobacco killed a lot of people. There’s no way to compensate those who died painful deaths. There’s no way to restore lost years to their heirs. There’s no way to pay full restitution to a society that shouldered the economic burden.

There are ways to discourage today’s kids from smoking. There are ways to help adult smokers quit. There are ways to make treatment for addiction more widely available.

It took generations for the day of reckoning to arrive for Big Tobacco. No more time should be wasted, no more lives sacrificed just so the state can accrue a little interest. Idaho should begin anti-smoking and treatment programs now.

 

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