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Presidential Commission Calls for Action to Address 'Unprecedented Crisis' Facing Tobacco Farmers and Communities

January 26, 2001

Washington, DC — The federal government should provide short and long-term assistance to tobacco farmers and communities facing 'an unprecedented crisis,' according to a preliminary report released today by a Presidential Commission. The report also calls for federal regulation of tobacco to protect the public health.

The report, by the President's Commission on Improving Economic Opportunity in Communities Dependent on Tobacco Production while Improving Public Health, states, 'The Commission has embraced the notion that the health and safety of the American people and tobacco farming communities are linked, however unlikely that might seem.'

The commission plans to continue collecting comments and information and issue a final report in May 2001 that makes specific recommendations. The preliminary report, 'Tobacco Communities at a Crossroad,' makes the following broad recommendations:

'The Commission calls on the Federal government to continue some type of tobacco program that regulates supply, price and quality; that provides fair compensation for tobacco quotas; that protects the interests of family farmers; and that provides assistance to tobacco farmers and their communities to diversity their crops and local economies to reduce dependence on tobacco income in the face of negative trends that are both long term and global.

'The Commission also calls on the Federal government to recognize the inextricable linkage between protecting the family tobacco farmer and the need to promote health by adopting additional steps to prevent children from starting to use tobacco; to educate, encourage and assist adults who want to quit; and to establish fair and effective regulatory standards over manufactured tobacco products.'

The 10-member commission, which was established by executive order in September 2000, consists of tobacco growers, public health representatives and economic development experts. It is chaired by Rod Kuegel, President of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association and a burley tobacco grower in Kentucky, and Matthew L. Myers, President of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

'The Federal government has an obligation to act because Federal policy has played a unique role in creating the current situation,' Kuegel said. 'With the right policies, we can create a brighter economic future for farmers and their communities while protecting the public health.'

'The health and safety of the American people and the economic well-being of the tobacco farming communities are linked together, ' Myers said. ' We can't do a thorough job of protecting public health without providing economic stability and security for tobacco growers and their families.'

The work of the Commission builds on strong working relationships that have been developed between health and grower organizations over the last several years. The Commission has held several public hearings and received comment from public health organizations, agricultural interests, economists, economic development specialists, farmers and their families.

This Commission has concluded that the problems facing tobacco farmers today are different than in the past. While the demand for the two predominant kinds of American-grown tobacco leaf – flue-cured and burley – has fluctuated in the past, it has recently declined sharply as the result of long term trends, including the increasingly global production of tobacco and manufacturing of tobacco products.

While the Commission has made no final recommendations, it has adopted the following principles to guide its future deliberations:

  • The Commission's recommendations should both promote the public health and the economic security and stability of tobacco farmers and their communities.

  • Both short-term and long-term assistance are warranted for family tobacco farmers and their communities because of two factors: (1) the dramatic reduction in the purchase of U.S. tobacco leaf in recent years as the result of a complex set of trends that are both long term and global in nature, and (2) past Federal policies which have led many tobacco farmers to a heavy, if not total, reliance on this crop and way of life.

  • The preservation of a tobacco program that controls supply, maintains price, moves quotas into the hands of growers and incorporates health and safety protection is in the best interests of tobacco farmers and the public health.

  • Solutions to the problems facing tobacco farmers should protect family farms, of which a significant number are small farms and owned by minorities.

  • Policies should be adopted to ensure that any system of direct contracting between manufacturers and U.S. tobacco farmers does not undermine the protections for family farms and the public health that are provided by the tobacco program.

  • Any tobacco program changes should focus on long-term solutions to the problems facing tobacco farmers, not short-term quick fixes.

  • Tobacco farmers should be compensated for their quota at a fair and equitable value in order to address their current crisis and reduce their dependency on tobacco, an action which is in the best interests of the tobacco producing and the public health communities.

  • Economic development assistance to tobacco producing communities is in the best interests of tobacco farmers, their communities and the public health community. The Commission should consider the broadest range of economic actions to assist tobacco farmers, tobacco farm families and their communities in promoting their prosperity, stability, and way of life during this period of transition, including:

    • Locally driven assistance to tobacco producing communities for economic redevelopment and diversification,

    • Support for the growth of supplemental crops (particularly those utilizing specialized tobacco farming skills) and livestock and the infrastructure necessary to produce, process, develop new markets, and bring these commodities to market; and

    • Continued research into the development of non-harmful uses of tobacco products.

  • The American tobacco farmer and the public should be protected against unfair foreign competition. For example, increased and expanded inspections for non-approved pesticides on imported tobacco are in the best interest of tobacco growers, their communities and the health community.

  • More needs to be done to prevent the harm caused by tobacco and this has been acknowledged by some tobacco product manufacturers. Comprehensive programs, such as those suggested in the August 2000 Report of the Surgeon General, to reduce tobacco use and the harm caused by tobacco should be adopted by both the public and private sector with a special emphasis on the problems facing tobacco growing states.

  • Tobacco should be regulated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should have authority to establish fair and equitable regulatory controls over the manufacture, sale, distribution, and labeling of tobacco products, comparable to regulations established for other products regulated by the FDA. Such regulations should have as their goal the protection of public health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should retain its authority to set safety standards governing tobacco farms.

  • Measures to fund the recommendations of the Commission must be reliable, long-term and consistent with the best interests of both tobacco farming communities and the public health.

The Report is available on the Commission's website or by contacting the office at 866-804-6698 (toll-free) or local 202-418-4268.

In addition to the co-chairs, Commission members include: Andrew Shepherd, flue-cured tobacco grower and Vice President and Director of Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corporation; James Hill, flue-cured tobacco grower and Director of Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Corporation; Ronald Sroufe, retired school administrator and burley tobacco grower; M. Cass Wheeler, Chief Executive Officer, American Heart Association; John Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society; LynnCarol Birgmann, Executive Director, Kentucky ACTION; Jesse White, Jr., Federal Co-Chair, Appalachian Regional Commission; and Art Campbell, former Assistant Secretary, Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.