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Don't waste this cash

April 22, 1999

Should Pennsylvania's share of a $246 billion tobacco settlement be used only for anti-smoking and other health-related causes, or can some of it be spent for other purposes? That's the debate facing Pennsylvania state lawmakers now. Considering some of the oddball proposals now surfacing, citizens ought to pay close attention.

For example, one proposal would use $1 million of the cash to clean grime off the ornate marble of the 93-year-old state capital building, on the premise that decades of heavy smoking deposited at least some of the dirt there.

Other, less specific proposals would put aside some of Pennsylvania's $11.3 billion share for bridge and road repair, although there's been no attempt (so far) to link wear and tear on these infrastructure items to tobacco use.

We agree with Gary Pincock, the Pennsylvania director of the American Cancer Society, who says all of the money should be reserved for public-health programs, with at least 30 percent going to programs that help people stop smoking, or keep them from ever starting to puff.

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And to prevent the fund from being depleted over time, we believe that it should be used to create a foundation, the interest earnings from which would be dedicated to public health and smoking-cessation programs.

As we see it, the combination of laws that outlaw smoking in various workplace and public areas, along with programs that educate young people about the dangers of smoking, will eventually and gradually wipe out the practice. This settlement shouldn't be squandered on programs like marble cleaning at the state capital, but reserved for measures that can really make a difference to the health of all Pennsylvanians.

If handled properly, 100 years from now, when smoking is an uncommon as a Lincoln-style stovepipe hat, this fund will still be providing grant money to improve citizens' lives and fund health-related research. But if citizens aren't vigilant, they could find themselves with a shiny capital building and no cash in the settlement fund. We know which alternative makes sense to us, and we suggest citizens share their wishes with state lawmakers.

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