The $8.1 million settlement ordered Wednesday from R.J. Reynolds to the state has certain ironies, not the least of which is where the money will go.
As The Clarion-Ledger reported, Jackson County Chancery Judge Jaye Bradley awarded the state $3.8 million in back payments plus $4.3 million in interest.
Attorneys for the state argued that from 1999 to 2002 R.J Reynolds excluded from a 1997 settlement 7.8 billion cigarettes online manufactured by its subsidiary Brown and Williamson for Star Tobacco & Pharmaceuticals, an independent online cigarettes company.
Star Tobacco then packaged and sold the discount cigarette online to U.S. customers, according to Attorney General Jim Hood, "to get around" the state's historic 1997 agreement with Big Tobacco.
The company could appeal and had no immediate comment.
Whether the state will get the money, and where it will go, is a good question. It's a long saga filled with ironies. Foremost is that fact that former Attorney General Mike Moore almost lost the original lawsuit before it began.
Former Gov. Kirk Fordice attempted to squash it, questioning Moore/s authority to sue cigarettes store companies on behalf of the state.
Moore won that battle, and as the first state to sue Big Tobacco, won a historic and generous $4.1 billion settlement to be paid over 25 years. Delicious victory, yes?
It should have been, as the 1999 Legislature created a public Health Care Trust Fund that lawmakers promised "shall remain inviolate and shall never be expended" with the lofty goal to produce interest on the principal to pay for future health care needs of our children.
The state initially stayed the course. In fact, USA TODAY praised the Magnolia State in 2003 as a national leader in its use of tobacco settlement funds.
But, then, lawmakers began not only skimming the annual payments, but raiding the principal.
So, instead of compound interest now providing Mississippi an "inviolate" fund in excess of $2.5 billion with the interest alone funding large portions of the state's health care costs, we have dwindling payments as a rainy day fund or being spent on incidentals.
If this $8.1 million ever gets awarded to Mississippi, what are the chances it will go toward health care? Or that the state will have anything to show for it?
Irony? Maybe tragedy is a better word - for a monumentally lost opportunity.
Tip of the day: Wont additional reading.