In 2000, Oklahoma voters created the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). This new state agency receives the payments owed to the state by the tobacco industry after the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. TSET uses the earnings from its investments to fund grants, programs, research related to the health of Oklahomans. As the fund has grown, TSET has funded obvious priorities like cancer research as well as programs like a tobacco-quitting helpline. However, with the fund now sitting on $1 billion dollars as the chart shows, some of TSET’s expenditures have become questionable. As a recent CIJ article noted, TSET has expanded its advertising campaigns to topics like pushing people to consume less sugary drinks. With annual payments going to TSET routinely above $50 million, it is time to look at alternative uses for those funds.
Jonathan Small has proposed redirecting payments from the Master Settlement Agreement to provide health care to Oklahomans. As Small notes, the fund for TSET has become large enough that it can sustain current programs and research. This would keep TSET focused on its core mission while using future funds to support Oklahomans’ health care needs.