Jacob Sullum

In their defense, the states say they have done their best to destroy competition and hurt consumers. As The Wall Street Journal puts it, "they argue that they have taken the steps required in the settlement to create a level playing field" by passing and enforcing "the necessary laws to deny the upstart tobacco companies unfair advantages."

Unfair advantages? According to the states, the companies that signed the MSA were guilty of a massive fraud that caused millions of premature deaths and racked up billions of dollars in government-covered medical bills. Isn't being unburdened by settlement payments because you didn't participate in such a fraud a fair advantage?

Fairness, of course, has nothing to do with it. This is about money: a windfall that state attorneys general have been happy to take credit for and state legislators have been happy to spend.

Because the settlement payments are tied to cigarette sales, Mark Hillman notes, states are sending "a mixed message to citizens that 'We want you to stop smoking' because it's terrible for your health, but 'We need you to keep smoking' to pay for government programs." Nowadays the states rake in more money from smokers than the cigarette companies do. Big Government and Big Tobacco have not just joined forces; they've become synonymous.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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