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A new extracurricular project will be available to students returning to William Mitchell College of Law for the fall semester, one that should appeal to those in the anti-smoking camp. The St. Paul, Minn.-based school’s Center for Health Law & Policy is implementing the Minnesota Tobacco Prevention & Control Law Project, plans for which are still in the works. The director of the William Mitchell project is D. Douglas Blanke, one of the architects of the state’s settlement with the major tobacco companies and a long-time consumer advocate and activist. The project is being funded by the state, with a portion of the proceeds from the tobacco settlement. The Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco on July 19 approved the first antismoking grants to come from the settlement. William Mitchell announced Blanke’s appointment on May 31, and he started in early July. He is in the process of organizing the project, identifying the areas in which it will be involved, and ordering its priorities. The project will serve as a resource center to assist with the legal and public policy aspects of tobacco regulation. Unlike many law school clinical programs, it will not provide legal representation or participate in litigation. The funding grant specifies that the project may not engage in providing direct representation in legal actions. Instead, the project will provide assistance and training on legal and policy issues, including developing, enacting, and enforcing ordinances, improving existing laws, and defending tobacco restriction controls against legal challenges. In this respect, the project will serve as a “brief bank” for communities and community-based organizations throughout the state, Blanke told American Lawyer Media. Minnesota communities have already started regulating tobacco use in restaurants, with a ban in Moose Lake and a voluntary ban in Crookston. Banning tobacco use in taverns may be more difficult, because of the connection between smoking and drinking, and the fact that children are ordinarily not present there. Also, tavern owners expect their revenues to be more significantly reduced than that of restaurants, according to a paper presented to the Western Economic Association. Initially, the law school will not be giving academic credit for work on the project. Several students will be paid to work on the project, and Blanke hopes to bring other student interns on board as soon as possible. Blanke says the project fits in well with William Mitchell College of Law’s strong commitment and connection to the community. Many of the students enter the study of law in mid-life, and bring with them skills and abilities learned in earlier careers. The project will not provide the hands-on clinical experience Blanke sees as one of the strengths of a William Mitchell legal education, and a skill he developed in his own earlier career. However, he points out that direct client counseling is no longer the only business model for a post-law school career. Before starting his work on the tobacco settlement, Blanke served as an Assistant Attorney General and director of consumer policy under former Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III. In the early 1990s, he focused on protecting consumers from misleading advertising and fraudulent promotions. At the American Bar Association’s 1990 annual meeting, he said state regulators had to step into a trade-regulation void created during the 1980s, when federal agencies were “underfunded, understaffed, and under Reagan,” according to The ABA Journal. In 1994, Blanke became part of Humphrey’s tobacco team, which was responsible for the state’s historic litigation. One of his duties involved working with a broad coalition of advocacy groups to win passage in 1997 of a state law restricting youth access to tobacco. When current Attorney General Mike Hatch replaced Humphrey in January 1999, Blanke was one of five members of the tobacco team to leave state service. He went to work for the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco. He also consulted for the World Health Organization, in connection with an investigation of possible tobacco industry interference with international public health programs.

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