FROM THE ARCHIVE
Tribal tobacco challenges dismissed
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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2001

Another setback has been dealt to tribes seeking compensation from global tobacco companies for health problems caused by cigarettes and tobacco products.

A federal judge in Texas last week dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Coushatta Tribe while a federal judge in New Mexico in July threw out another filed by Acoma Pueblo and 44 other tribes. Both lawsuit sought damages from big tobacco companies, following a similar suit filed by states.

But tribes haven't been as successful as the states, who settled a landmark $200 billion lawsuit in 1998. Forty-six states, including New Mexico, five territories and the District of Columbia signed onto the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).

Under the MSA, funds are directed to each state based on a number of factors, including smokers affected. With American Indians and Alaska Natives being among the heaviest smokers in the nation, it was believed money would be sent to tribes for tobacco prevention efforts.

Indian health care experts, however, say they have received almost no support from their respective states. Cynthia Coachman, the tobacco coordinator for the Creek Nation of Oklahoma, said her tribe instead implemented its own cigarette tax to pay for education and treatment programs.

The situation prompted a number of tribes to file their own lawsuits against tobacco companies, with little to show for it. In July, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a major blow to nearly two dozen tribes in six states lost their chance at $1 billion of the MSA.

With the recent dismissals in Texas and New Mexico, the situation looks bleak for Indian Country. Sources close to the litigation indicated appeals were not likely due to cost, but that no decision has yet been made.

Tobacco companies claim they are doing their part to educate consumers about the dangers of smoking, although none contacted by Indianz.Com since the July case have any Indian Country specific programs. They also point out that courts have dismissed similar claims against other groups seeking compensation.

Tobacco usage among American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly women, is high. In March, the Surgeon General reported that Native women are the heaviest female smokers in the nation.

Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released another report showing that Indian mothers have the highest rate of smoking during pregnancy than any other ethnic or racial group. While other groups have shown a decline in pre-natal smoking over the past decade, there has been no significant drop among Native mothers, according to the study.

The state of Texas settled its tobacco lawsuit prior to the 1998 MSA.

Relevant Links:
Master Settlement Agreement Documents - http://www.naag.org/tobaccopublic/library.cfm
American Legacy Foundation - http://www.americanlegacy.org

Related Stories:
US tobacco negotiator quits (8/2)
Report cites gains in child welfare (7/20)
Tribal challenge to big tobacco dismissed (7/17)
Cherokee Nation wants in on tobacco talks (7/6)
Tobacco companies resisting settlement (6/22)
Report: Native women heaviest smokers (3/28)
Smoking in Indian Country (3/28)

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