State Settlements Create Smoke Screen

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WASHINGTON: While multi-billion-dollar legal settlements have Florida and Mississippi claiming victory over the tobacco industry, these deals are actually big wins for cigarette companies because they are saving money on the proposed $368.5 billion national settlement.

For instance, this week's $11.3 billion deal with Florida is a snip compared to the $18 billion it would have had to pay that state alone under the terms of the national settlement.

That said, TIME Washington correspondent Bruce Van Voorst points out that such settlements are impossible in the majority of the 41 states suing tobacco companies. "There's widespread agreement that going the route of state-by-state settlements a la Mississippi and Florida is not the way to go," says Van Voorst. Most other states don't have liability laws making cigarette makers accountable for Medicaid bills generated by smoking-related illness.