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Tobacco producers vulnerable

The generally stated goals sound noble: "Reducing disease caused by tobacco products, and insuring the future prosperity and stability of the American tobacco farmer, the tobacco farm family, and tobacco farming communities..."

Read a little further into the Core Principles Statement between the public health community and the tobacco producers community, and you might wonder if tobacco farmers are being supported or attacked.

Such phrases as FDA authority, increase in the federal excise tax, the federal government shall no longer bear administrative costs of a tobacco program, industry information and research shall be available for public review, make some members of the tobacco community wonder about the true intent of a commission charged with advising the President on the future of tobacco in the U.S.

The President's Commission on Improving Economic Opportunity in Communities Dependent on Tobacco Production While Protecting Public Health, recently held hearings and took public comments in North Carolina and Kentucky. They are charged with presenting their first report to the President on Dec. 31, 2000. These core principles and the commission's report are to be used as guides for enacting national tobacco legislation.

According to a document distributed at the public hearings, there is agreement on 10 core principles.

On issues related to public health, there is agreement:

(1.) That it is in the best interests of the public health community and the tobacco producer community that the FDA should have authority to establish fair and equitable regulatory controls over the manufacture, sale, distribution, labeling (including country of origin) and marketing of tobacco products, both domestic and imported, comparable to regulations established for other products regulated by the FDA. Such regulations should have as their goal the protection of public health and the assurance that users of tobacco products are provided with full and complete information about the products they are using. In order to accomplish this goal, industry information and research should be made available for public review.

(2.) That there should be strong, complementary federal, state and local laws which guarantee that tobacco products are not marketed, advertised or otherwise made available to anyone under the age of 18.

(3.) That prohibition of the use of tobacco products by informed adults of legal age is not a goal of the public health advocates or tobacco producers.

(4.) That there should be mechanisms in place to prevent the importation of foreign tobacco, whether in raw agricultural leaf, reconstituted or homogenized leaf, tobacco by-products, or any other form or alteration of tobacco that does not meet pesticide residue requirements and other quality controls required for domestically grown and produced tobacco.

(5.) That if there is an increase in the federal excise tax in any legislative proposal, a portion of the tax would be used for carrying out public health initiatives, and a portion of the tax would be used to assist farmers and their communities in addressing their economic dependence on tobacco.

On issues related to agricultural production of tobacco, there is agreement:

(1.) That a tobacco production and control program which limits supply and which sets a minimum purchase price is in the best interest of the public health community and the tobacco producer community. From a harm-reduction standpoint, it is in the best interest of the public health community to support enhanced assurance of quota stability for domestic production of tobacco.

(2.) That any cost associated with the administration or operation of a tobacco program be guaranteed to be paid for under any legislative proposal, and that the federal government no longer bear the cost for the administration or operation of such a program.

(3.) That there be greater cooperation between the tobacco growing community and the public heath community to insure that quality control and health and safety standards are maintained in the production of tobacco, both domestically and abroad, and that industry information and research should be made available for public review. Agencies with public health responsibility, including the Food and Drug Administration (whose authority over manufactured tobacco products should not extend to on-farm tobacco production) should work cooperatively through structures in place in the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency so as not to extend any additional control and bureaucracy over the on-farm production of tobacco.

(4.) That tobacco quota holders and lease holders should be given the opportunity to have their quotas compensated for at a fair and equitable level, and that the protection of tenant farmers be given special consideration as part of this process to insure that they are not adversely affected.

(5.) That a significant amount of money be allocated so that tobacco growing states and communities have options and opportunities to insure their economic viability into the 21st century. There must be significant involvement of tobacco growing communities in determining the allocation of these funds and decision-making.

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