HELENA — Montana is asking a judge to force a group of tobacco companies to make more than $43 million in payments to the state that they have disputed over the past 15 years, Attorney General Tim Fox said Monday.
The payments are due under a 1998 settlement of lawsuits that alleged tobacco companies denied the detrimental health effects of their products, caused government-funded medical programs to spend additional money to care for those affected and that the companies marketed their products to children.
Montana uses its settlement funds for smoking cessation programs, children’s health insurance and mental health programs, Medicaid and other public health programs.
The tobacco companies have conspired to dispute portions of the payments since 2003, forcing states to file legal actions, Fox said. However, even if a state receives a favorable ruling, the tobacco companies argue they must settle all of their disputes with every state before making that year’s payment.
Montana’s litigation over the 2004 payment took place in 2017 and 2018 and the state received $3.3 million, Fox said. The state is still seeking payments dating back to 2005.
“As long as a new dispute is asserted each year, and it takes multiple years to resolve each dispute, the backlog of disputes increases each year,” the motion states. “Defendants thus make it functionally impossible for Montana to ever recover the full amount of (settlement) payments withheld over the years — even if Montana wins every dispute asserted against it.”
The disputes have no factual basis, said the motion, filed in state District Court in Helena last Friday.
The 2020 payment is due on Wednesday and “the tobacco companies will once again improperly withhold millions from us,” Fox predicted.
Officials with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Altria Group, which owns Philip Morris USA, declined to comment on the motion.
Montana has received more than $550 million from the companies since 1998, Fox said.
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