Montana's attorney general this week announced a settlement agreement that ensures tobacco companies follow through with commitments they made to the state, including millions of dollars in payments promised in a 1998 settlement.

Tim Fox, who will speak at City Club Missoula next month, said the agreement concludes a multi-year legal battle between Montana and several major tobacco companies, including RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris.

“This settlement ensures that tobacco companies live up to the deal they agreed to two decades ago and pay in full the funds owed to the state,” Fox said. “This is an historic agreement for the state of Montana, and I’m proud of my team for making this happen.”

Since 2004, Fox said, tobacco companies have disputed, withheld or refused to transfer annual payments owed to the state of Montana.

Payments owed to the state were agreed to in the 1998 nationwide Master Settlement Agreement, which resolved a number of state lawsuits over the concealment and misrepresentation of information regarding tobacco products.

But withholding payments to state governments remains a tactic collectively deployed by tobacco companies across the country, Fox added. Montana is the only state in the nation that hasn't settled with the tobacco companies for a lower amount than originally owed.

It's also the only state that can litigate the issue in state court.

“Any businesses operating in Montana must be held accountable for wrongdoing,” Fox said.

Montana recovered $3.3 million in back payments and interest, Fox said. The settlement also protects Montana’s right to retain its full payment for calendar year 2004 of more than $27 million.

The remaining disputed portions of the annual payments owed to the state range from $2 million to $5 million a year, Fox said.