Like ants at a picnic, hundreds of groups and city and state agencies are lining up to get a piece of the tobacco settlement pie.

A $10.9 million payment soon will be wired to state treasurer Ed Alter's office -- the first of $1 billion Utah will receive over 25 years as the state's share of the historic settlement with the tobacco industry.How to best utilize the funds is something Utah lawmakers will determine at the next legislative session.

What they need to keep foremost in mind is this: The bulk of the money needs to be used to benefit children. The main purpose of the suit was to keep children from getting hooked on smoking. Teen smoking is a problem in Utah, as it is in most places.

Between 1986 and 1999, the percentage of people smoking under 18 in Utah grew from 9 percent to nearly 15 percent, according to a study conducted at Brigham Young University. Thus, some of the settlement funds need to be spent on aggressive anti-smoking programs and community awareness efforts targeting the dangers of smoking.

But more can be done to help children than by simply using all of the money on anti-smoking measures. That would be overkill, the equivalent of mowing the same patch of lawn every few hours.

Lawmakers need to establish an endowment or trust fund for a portion of the money. For each $1 million invested, the state could expect a return of 5 percent, or $50,000 a year, which represents the state's return on investments the past few years.

A proposal with considerable merit is one advanced by the Utah Taxpayers Association. It would place a share of the settlement into the permanent State School Fund to benefit Utah schoolchildren. The fund was raided in the early 1980s to address a budget shortfall. Tobacco settlement funds would restore it to where it would have been without the raid. Interest earnings would help support the schools. Improving the state's educational system would enrich children's lives.

The tobacco settlement funds must also be treated as one-time money. While Utah is supposed to receive amounts varying from $22 million to $37 million annually over the next 25 years, circumstances could alter that equation. For example, tobacco companies could go bankrupt. The federal government and other outside parties also could lay claim to some of the money.

Whatever money ultimately is available needs to be used to benefit Utah's children.