Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced Monday that by the end of 2020, the state will get $ 53.5 million back from tobacco companies that withheld money from the state during a year-long legal battle.
The money is part of a settlement to a 2018 Montana Consumer Protection Agency lawsuit demanding that companies comply with the end of a 1998 settlement that required tobacco companies pay a certain amount of money to the states where their products are sold .
The total value of the settlement is estimated at $ 100 million.
“At the center of this lawsuit is a Montana principle: a deal is a deal,” said Helena’s Fox during a livestream press conference. “The defendants rejected the deal from the start. This agreement makes them responsible. “
Tobacco can only be legally sold in Montana if it has been approved by the Justice Department and listed on the state tobacco product registry. This directory contains products from brands known colloquially as “Big Tobacco” such as RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, which alone lists 23 different brands in the state register.
This company, and other companies like American Tobacco Corp. and Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. are required to pay the state of Montana an annual amount set by an independent auditor to offset the damage caused by tobacco. For Montana, this amount is generally between $ 3 million and $ 4.5 million.
However, the companies argued that Montana failed to properly enforce its tobacco laws to avoid paying that money.
“The tobacco companies had absolutely no evidence that the state was not scrupulously enforcing its tobacco laws, and so had no basis to withhold these payments for all these years,” Fox said.
Also included in the settlement is a ban prohibiting tobacco companies from withholding the money again and preventing the company from filing complaints that the state will not enforce tobacco laws until 2030 without new evidence.
These two factors together with the repayment from 2005 to date result in an estimated value of $ 100 million. That money will add to the state’s public health budget at a time when public health is incredibly important, Fox said.
Fox said in his senior year as Montana Attorney General the settlement was the largest the state Consumer Protection Agency had ever worked on, and thanked several attorneys and former Montana attorneys general for their work on the litigation, including outgoing Steve Bullock government, who previously served as attorney general.
“Honestly, it’s a great way to go out as attorney general from Montana,” said Fox, who will be replaced by elected attorney general Austin Knudsen in January 2021.
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