Minnesota is getting $60.5 million in e-cigarette settlement

A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop
The state settled the court cast last month but released details on Wednesday.
Seth Wenig | AP Photo

Minnesota is getting $60.5 million from the settlement of its lawsuit with e-cigarette maker Juul Labs and Altria.

The state reached the settlement with the companies last month, just before a trial in the case was to go to closing arguments. The state had argued that the companies aimed their products at young people and had hooked a new generation on nicotine.

Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison unveiled details of the settlement Wednesday.

“Minnesota’s settlement is the largest per capita state settlement precisely because we took Juul and Altria to trial,” Ellison said. “The amount of our settlement is larger than all of the money Juul made in Minnesota, between 2015 and 2021. So if they got paid by selling deceptive and harmful products to our kids, we got all the money back.”

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Public health advocates are optimistic that — unlike billions from the state’s landmark 1998 settlement with tobacco companies — all of the proceeds from the e-cig settlement will go directly toward reducing nicotine use.

Millions of dollars from the settlement will go to cover attorney fees and the state’s cost of litigating its case.

Gov. Tim Walz is also celebrating the victory. Walz and others are lamenting the explosion of vaping and what it did to reverse successful efforts to curb conventional smoking among young people.

“We have a whole generation of kids [that] got hooked this way. So just to be very clear, we got more work to do. This gives us an awful lot of tools to do that,” he said.

Long-time public health advocate Jeanne Weigum has been raising red flags about nicotine use for decades and now leads the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota. Lessons were learned from the way the much larger, multi-billion-dollar landmark tobacco industry settlement proceeds were spent, Weigum said.

“We got it wrong the first time around,” she said.

Most of the more than $6 billion the state got from that settlement in 1998 did not go directly to reducing nicotine use.

"There has not been a month when COVID deaths exceeded tobacco deaths. We pulled out all the stops on COVID because it was an obvious crisis. But we've had an ongoing crisis caused by tobacco. Health care costs have significantly been driven for decades by tobacco, and yet we have not treated it with a degree of seriousness,” Weigum said.

This time around, Weigum and others have been lobbying state lawmakers to mandate that every cent of the settlement be given to the state health department.

“We saw this one coming and went to the Legislature and asked the Legislature to put into law that any funding that came from a tobacco settlement would be dedicated to tobacco prevention and treatment. And that's in the Health and Human Services bill that is in the process of going through the government right now,” she said.

Weigum said it's critical that the tens of millions of dollars from the settlement be targeted to help those hurt most by nicotine use: young people, people of color and low-income people.

Weigum said science shows policy changes aimed at reducing access to nicotine and the appeal of candy-flavored nicotine products are much more effective than education campaigns about the dangers of nicotine.

“I certainly hope that this goes for science-based prevention and treatment activities. It could easily be frittered away in coloring contests and that's not science based but it sure is comfortable,” she said.