Who said lawyers do not have a sense of humor? Before a crowd of about 150 people, mostly nurses and members of the Yale School of Nursing, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 elicited many laughs Wednesday in a speech dealing with the serious subject of health concerns in the state.
Blumenthal was the keynote speaker in the Yale School of Nursing’s Sybil Palmer Bellos Lecture Series. Blumenthal stressed the need for the Connecticut state government to do a better job in supplying adequate medical care for its citizens, especially the needy and underinsured. He highlighted his successes in mandating insurance coverage reform for women in need of emergency care and people suffering from Lyme disease. But he devoted much of his speech to the health concern he said he believes is the biggest and most important: tobacco. However, he said that in the judicial and legislative sense, the fight is not going well.
“There is no more important public health problem, in my view, that the law and the courts can address, along with public health advocates and professionals like yourselves, than the fight against tobacco,” he said. “And we are far from winning that fight. In fact, I tend to say we are losing it. The law and public policy are failing to keep pace with the progress of science and medicine.”
Blumenthal talked about how tobacco companies are now targeting new demographics, like young women and the Hispanic-American population. In addition, he said that the state of Connecticut is one of the worst states in terms of pursuing anti-tobacco measures.
He asserted this despite $661 million in settlement money that the state received last year from tobacco companies as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. The settlement called for $206 billion in damages to be paid to 46 states by the tobacco industry. But in Connecticut, Blumenthal said, only one percent of that money was going toward tobacco-prevention measures, well below the levels of other states.
Blumenthal touched on the success the state of Mississippi has had in implementing effective anti-tobacco measures. In a campaign targeted toward children, the state has used local celebrities and athletes to stress the harms of tobacco use.
As a result, in the last three years, the state has seen a 48 percent decrease in middle-school-age children’s use of tobacco, while high schools have seen a 29 percent decrease in tobacco use by their students.
He also noted that Medicaid does not cover smoking cessation and that no measures are being taken to help people who want to stop smoking. Blumenthal said he believes failures like these are some of the reasons why the average age Connecticut smokers start smoking is 11.
“And the question is now, ‘Are we better off [after the settlement]? Have we made progress?'” Blumenthal said. “I think the answer is no. Smoking rates have come down somewhat, but the tobacco companies are continuing their crusade to lure children into lifetimes of addiction and disease.”
Nadine Seltzer, a nurse practitioner at a private clinic in Stamford, said Blumenthal had some great ideas, but the difficulty was a matter of implementing those ideas.
“I think his intentions are very good,” she said. “He challenged us to do more on the citizen level. He said, by the end of the decade, there will be improvements [in health care reform], and this is very encouraging, but I would like to know more about how this is going to happen.”
Herbert Ochtman SOM ’00, said the speech showed much about the character of Blumenthal.
“I think he’s an excellent Attorney General,” Ochtman said. “An activist Attorney General is the kind of Attorney General [Connecticut] wants.”