Turning the Tables on Big Tobacco

Author: Steve Sturges
Posted: Jan 15, 2015

“I have not been involved and cannot imagine being involved in anything with greater import than the tobacco litigation.” This thought, articulated by former Attorney General of Oklahoma Drew Edmondson, sums up the experience of those involved with some of the proudest chain of decisions in Oklahoma history.


“Oklahoma TSET: Keeping The Promise for Health” is a documentary debuting on OETA, January 15. It explores the role of Oklahoma in the landmark class action lawsuit, called the Master Settlement Agreement, the subsequent decisions that led to the formation of the Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) and the good work that TSET is doing to improve the health of Oklahoma.

With respect to the former attorney general, rarely has our team been involved in a project of greater import than this documentary. The VI/TSET team worked exhaustively to prepare and interview dozens of decision-makers, dig through hundreds of historical newspapers and documents and search countless websites. Along the way, we became aware of the overarching significance of these events and their place in history. Pouring over, around and through more than 20 hours of footage, researching and creating an animated tobacco timeline and graphics, we arrived at a fascinating 27-minute story. Our experience only deepened our appreciation in our client TSET.

For more than 100 years, the tobacco industry enjoyed free reign in Oklahoma, peddling their deadly products with little consequence and defiantly denying culpability. Along with the rest of the nation, Oklahoma had no way to stem the tide of big tobacco. Then in 1998, the Master Settlement Agreement changed the course of history. The biggest tobacco companies agreed to make annual payments to nearly every state to compensate for tobacco-related health care costs. This windfall could be used at each state’s discretion. In 2000, Oklahoma, with the help of bipartisan legislative support, protected these Master Settlement Agreement funds through a constitutional amendment, approved by a vote of the people. To paraphrase former Oklahoma Treasurer Robert Butkin, because of the hard work of so many and the wisdom of the people, Oklahoma has progressed from a health laggard to a health leader. Oklahoma TSET is the national model for the best way to use funds from the tobacco litigation.

This documentary will make every Oklahoman proud. It has changed the way my team looks at the world and made us confident that no business or industry is above reproach. This story is classic David vs Goliath, incredibly interesting, poignant and timely. We hope you enjoy every minute of it.

“Oklahoma TSET: Keeping the Promise for Health" will re-air on OETA on Jan. 25, 2015 at 11:30am.

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