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Bill targets small firms that sell tobacco in Utah

SHARE Bill targets small firms that sell tobacco in Utah

State prosecutors may have another tool at their disposal to go after smaller players in the tobacco industry.

A unanimous vote Tuesday by the Health and Human Services Committee advanced a bill that would make it more difficult for small tobacco companies to recoup money deposited into escrow accounts for each state, including Utah, to settle possible future claims.

HB189, sponsored by Rep. David Hogue, R-Salt Lake, would limit access to the funds for at least 25 years. "This will save an enormous amount of time and resources for us. The main point is to provide a fund if the state chooses to come after these companies for public health reasons," assistant Attorney General Joel Ferre said.

Utah receives about $30 million a year through a nationwide settlement with the seven largest tobacco companies. But it's the smaller companies, which account for between 3 and 10 percent of the market share, that Hogue wants to target.

Now, state lawmakers want to make sure companies whose names don't appear on the MSA are subject to prosecution, and that they'll have the money to cough up if a ruling goes against them.

Utah is one of 20 states currently working to rectify the confusion by clarifying wording in the MSA.