Tobacco settlement money to Louisiana at risk

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A dispute over Louisiana's compliance with a tobacco settlement agreement is threatening the state with losing $140 million or more, including dollars that pay for the state's free college tuition program called TOPS.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's top assistant outlined the problem to lawmakers Wednesday, which involves several states.

The Advocate reports that Caldwell's first assistant Trey Phillips said the tobacco companies claim Louisiana and other states haven't met their obligations under the settlement agreement, specifically to regulate off-brand cigarette companies.

Phillips said the state could lose its April 15, 2014, payment of $140 million and a similar amount a year later.

The issue goes before an arbitration panel of three retired federal judges in March in Florida.

Some of Louisiana's annual tobacco settlement proceeds support the TOPS program.

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