Congress Should Protect Tobacco Farmers and Public Health, Not Tobacco Manufacturers

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jul. 23 2003

Washington, D.C. — Over two years ago, three leading public health organizations – the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids – joined with leaders of the major tobacco grower organizations, including the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association and the Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corporation, in serving on the President's Commission on Improving Economic Opportunity in Communities Dependent on Tobacco Production While Protecting Public Health. In May 2001, the Commission unanimously issued its final report setting forth detailed recommendations to address both the economic crisis facing tobacco farmers and communities and the public health crisis caused by tobacco use in the United States.

The Commission's report reflected a consensus among major tobacco grower organizations and the public health community on the details of a tobacco quota buyout and a restructuring of the federal tobacco program and on key public health measures, including U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over manufactured tobacco products. The Commission's recommendations have been widely accepted and endorsed by public health groups, tobacco farmer organizations, and many Members of Congress who work closely with the public health community, including Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). Public health groups and tobacco grower organizations have since endorsed federal legislation to implement both the grower and public health recommendations of the Commission.

For years, Members of Congress from tobacco-growing states have told tobacco farmers that if they could agree on a single quota buyout proposal, their elected representatives would move it forward. Unfortunately, with rare exception, this promise has not been kept. Two years ago, in the Presidential Commission's report, tobacco farmers did agree on a buyout proposal. U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY) has introduced buyout legislation consistent with the Commission's recommendations in both the last and the current Congress. In the last Congress, U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) also introduced legislation consistent with the principles set forth in the Commission's report. But few other Members of Congress from tobacco-growing states have lined up in support of the tobacco growers' agenda, and despite their publicly professed willingness to work with members of the public health community, other Members of Congress from tobacco-growing states have not made any effort to move forward legislation consistent with the Commission's recommendations.

As the House Agriculture Committee prepares to hold a hearing tomorrow on tobacco quota buyout proposals, we ask this question: Given the broad consensus in support of the Presidential Commission's recommendations, why has Congress taken so little action to help tobacco farmers or to address the health consequences of tobacco use? It is clearly not the public health community, or its allies in Congress, who are standing in the way of a fair quota buyout supported by tobacco growers. The only parties outside of Congress who objected to the Commission's report were the tobacco manufacturers. Today we call on Members of Congress from tobacco-growing states to stand up to the tobacco manufacturers and put farmers' interests first.

Some cigarette manufacturers and some in Congress say the Fletcher bill is not realistic. They say that tobacco farmers have to accept far less and that the type of price and production protections the Commission recommended to protect family farmers are not doable. We disagree. The only beneficiaries of a buyout proposal that falls below the level recommended by the Commission are the tobacco manufacturers.

We stand ready to work with all parties involved, including Members of Congress from tobacco-growing states, to enact legislation consistent with the recommendations of the Presidential Commission. We support legislation that would:

  • provide tobacco growers and quota holders with fair and equitable compensation for their quota funded through a user fee on the tobacco companies or other source of new revenue
  • replace the current program with a new system of licensing that controls supply, maintains price, protects family farmers and gives farmers and their communities both short term and long term stability
  • provide economic development assistance to tobacco communities
  • provide FDA with effective authority over manufactured tobacco products while retaining the Department of Agriculture's role over tobacco farming.

But we also stand ready to vigorously oppose any legislation or legislative process that we believe would lead to the enactment of weak FDA legislation that does more to protect tobacco manufacturers than the public health.

We are committed to continuing to work in partnership with tobacco grower organizations to achieve our mutual goals of providing economic assistance to tobacco farmers and communities and reducing the tremendous health harms caused by tobacco products. We need the support and partnership of Members of Congress from tobacco-growing states to achieve these goals.

More information on tobacco grower issues is available at: http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/reports/growers.

 

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