By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What were you doing 20 years ago today?

It’s unlikely any of us can remember. But a legal settlement on this day 20 years ago against big tobacco continues to make a difference in Minnesota.

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On the day of the settlement, then Minnesota Attorney General Skip Humphrey announced, “The tobacco industry has surrendered.”

Those terms continue to deliver today. The $6 billion settlement brings tens of millions of dollars into the state for anti-smoking and public health programs.

The settlement by the State of Minnesota was historic. Attorney Mike Ciresi, who represented the state of Minnesota, said then, “I think this will have an impact, probably a profound impact on other states.”

And history continues to deliver. Twenty years later, the $6 billion settlement continues to deliver $170 million a year to the state’s general fund that will continue as long as tobacco companies are in business.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s share continues to fund the Nice Ride Bike programs you see around town. Other education and self-help programs will be phased out in the next five years.

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Since 2001, Clearway Minnesota’s Quitplan program has helped 170,000 Minnesotans who are trying to quit smoking, and will continue to help through 2020.

“It’s free regardless of whether or not you have insurance, anyone can access this,” Mike Sheldon of Clearway Minnesota said.

The gutsy legal team that guided the state to victory was led by Attorneys Mike Ciresi and Roberta Walburn, who rejected a multi-billion dollar settlement to the fury of then Governor Arne Carlson.

“Former Governor Carlson was adamant that we should settle and I can understand his position. The industry had never lost a case. There was $4 billion on the table, close to $4 billion and we said no,” Ciresi said.

The gamble paid off. After months of testimony and just hours before the jury was set to start deliberating, the tobacco companies settled.

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Right now if you or someone you know needs help quitting smoking, you can get help by going to Quitplan.com. Again, they offer free counseling and support as well as supplies of nicotine patches and gum. And while this service will be phased out starting in 2020, that $170 million a year contribution to Minnesota’s general fund continues indefinitely.

Esme Murphy