Our attorneys at the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium have recently received a deluge of questions from people throughout the U.S. asking if they are eligible to receive payments from the tobacco industry or their state as part of the Master Settlement Agreement. Many of these questions are from those who have experienced pain, suffering, and loss associated with tobacco use and who learned from social media or elsewhere of the purported availability of MSA payments to individuals. The claims about MSA payments – and a host of other potentially misleading claims – are promoted online by a company called Money Morning, which offers investment advice. The ad is actually a solicitation, which appears targeted primarily towards retirees and is framed as an “opportunity” for individuals to claim “a tax-free portion of this settlement,” even if neither they nor anyone in their family has smoked. The apparent purpose of the ad is to solicit annual “Private Briefing memberships,” which are essentially subscriptions to e-newsletters and market reviews promoted by this investment consulting firm.
Please be aware that the ad’s information about MSA payments to individuals appears to be a deceptive attempt to make money from individuals already harmed by tobacco use and exposure. There are no provisions in the MSA that would require the tobacco companies or any state to pay individuals for their loss. The proper authorities are aware of these advertisements (read the recent press releases from the West Virginia Attorney General, the Nevada Attorney General, and the Washington State Attorney General). If you wish to make a complaint about them, please consider forwarding any information you have received to the consumer protection division of your state’s attorney general’s office.
Background Note: As you may know, the MSA is a contract between the tobacco companies and 46 states that resulted from the settlement of lawsuits the states filed against the tobacco companies to recover certain tobacco-related healthcare costs. The agreed-upon settlement requires that the tobacco companies make annual payments to each of the states in perpetuity. The MSA also contains other provisions including, for example, restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes to minors. Each state can use the annual MSA payments as it chooses. Many states use a small portion of the funds for tobacco control and cessation programs, but most of the money is typically used for other purposes, such as security for loans or simply for a state’s general fund. No states provide for direct MSA payments to individuals to pay for medical costs resulting from tobacco use. For more information about the MSA, we encourage you to review our publication, The Master Settlement: An Overview. To learn how MSA funds are being used in your state, you might also consider contacting your attorney general’s office.
Finally, although individuals cannot receive direct compensation under the MSA, they can pursue civil litigation against the tobacco industry for damages incurred as a result of tobacco use or exposure. Please note that litigation can be an expensive, time-consuming and challenging process. Tobacco companies have a long history of vigorously fighting these legal battles. Still, a number of successful civil lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry have resulted in awards to private individuals who have suffered tobacco-related disease or death. The most notable of these lawsuits was a class action suit in Florida known as the Engle case. To explore your potential legal options, contact an attorney who works on tobacco litigation in your state.