- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Millions of dollars in tobacco settlement funds for programs to help smokers have not been spent in Maryland because of the state's inability to quickly distribute the money.
Many counties also were unprepared to spend the money when it was made available.
Baltimore County gave back $3.1 million of the $3.4 million it received through the state's Cigarette Restitution Fund, where the state deposits money from a $206 billion nationwide tobacco settlement.
Maryland counties returned a total of $8.9 million in settlement funds they were unable to spend in fiscal year 2000-2001, the first year of the program.
The state doled out $19.4 million during that year.
"We didn't have a plan in gear," said Carlessia A. Hussein, director of the state restitution program. "We're building this train track as we're driving it."
Assistant Attorney General Carmen Shepherd, who worked on the tobacco case, expressed shock when told that Baltimore County returned 91 percent of the money it received the first year.
"You're kidding," Miss Shepherd said. "That would be bad. The tobacco lawsuit will only be decided by how we use the money."
A national anti-tobacco advocacy group called the lack of spending "outrageous."
"It's very surprising and it's quite shocking," said John Banzhaf, a George Washington University law professor who heads Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). "How long does it take to spend money to hire ads on television? How hard is it to hire someone on a contract?"
The Cigarette Restitution Fund was set up in 1999 after Maryland joined 45 other states, five U.S. territories and the District in a $206 billion tobacco settlement.
Maryland is to receive $4.4 billion during the next two decades. In addition to cancer-prevention and smoking-cessation programs, the money is to be used for cancer research and to help tobacco farmers grow alternative crops.
Counties received partial payments in the first year because of the lateness of the grants. Miss Hussein said the grants were delayed by requirements in the legislation establishing the fund.
The law stated that studies had to be conducted in each county on cancer risk and tobacco use before it could be determined how much each jurisdiction should receive.
As a result, some counties didn't receive their money for fiscal 2001 which ran from July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001 until May 2001.
"It takes awhile to get a new plan in place," Miss Hussein said.
That was the case with Baltimore County. The county received $780,530 in anti-tobacco money in May 2001. When the fiscal year ended June 30, the county returned $700,000.
"I would not scramble to spend the money because the money is going back to the restitution fund," said Dr. Michelle A. Leverett, county health officer. "We have to be responsible."
The county received more than $2.6 million in cancer-prevention money in February 2001 and returned $2.4 million.
But other jurisdictions were prepared to use the money. Baltimore City received $766,406 in anti-tobacco money and spent every penny.
The city also received about $2.99 million in cancer-prevention money and returned $296,753.


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