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Stop Bailing Out Big Tobacco

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Author 23168
Message Gene Messick
With all the billions of dollars bailing out Wall Street, bankers and automakers, here's one bailout that can be stopped immediately by Congressional action, with a huge savings to the American taxpayer, not only in money, but in health costs as well, from this leading cause of preventable death.

Why would Congress, year after year, pour billions of dollars into supporting a product which kills people? Supporting Big Tobacco with vast subsidies of taxpayer money must be the longest on-going insanity in our history.

Tobacco is laced into the South's history since it's beginning, as Colonists learned of tobacco from Native Americans living on the coast of Virginia and North Carolina. Tobacco, especially as snuff, became a rage with the aristocracy in Europe.

But it got it's greatest boost from our government, ironically when Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862, which created Land Grant Universities. To financially assist public institutions involved in the Agricultural and Mechanic Arts, they were given large tracts of Western land to sell or use to raise funds to establish and/or expand institutions of higher education. In the South, these can be recognized as the Colleges, now Universities, with the word "State" in their names (or A &M, or Tech, as in Va Tech). There was a system of duality here, with some "separate-but-equal" institutions established for whites, and some for blacks. More here.

Slaves were assumed to be an economic necessity in production of tobacco on early Plantations. Shortly before our Uncivil War, it was a slave who accidentally discovered flue-curing, the heat process that turns green leaves to yellow instead of brown. His job was to keep the fire going in the drying barn overnight, but he fell asleep and the fire went out. He went to the blacksmith's shed and got some charcoal to cover his mistake. The higher heat turned the leaves bright yellow, in Caswell County NC, where there are still remnants of pre-Civil War plantation homes built on profits from bright leaf flue-curing, in a county that has about the same population now as it had then, about half from descendants of slaves.

As part of supporting a fledgling agricultural industry in tobacco, each State College in southern tobacco growing regions established programs to assist farmers in growing tobacco, with information, education and Tobacco Experiment Stations for on-the-ground improvements in the way farmers grow and process tobacco for market. They promoted the best ways to plant, harvest, cure and sell tobacco. You can learn more about this complicated process for growing plant genus Nicotiana by going here.

Each season, the Tobacco Market moved from deep south Tobacco Belts northward based on climate. Tobacco auctions were romanticized by the tobacco Auctioneer who moved through stacks of tobacco in huge warehouses, chanting his sing-song auction lingo, as buyers for tobacco companies bid on each lot. It used to be a common sight in the early days of TV, before tobacco advertising was banned from television. I went to an auction once, and the smell was amazing. My cigarettes never tasted so good for weeks afterward.

Banning advertising may be where our current national schizophrenia over Tobacco began: our government spends billions of tax-payer dollars each year employing tens of thousands of Staff at State Universities to teach farmers how to grow it better, and then our government turns around and says, "But you cannot advertise it on TV." And eventually, building after building in our recent times became smoke-free, requiring more regulations, as we learned about dangers from secondhand smoke.

Our schizophrenia was increased by our government telling Cigarette Manufacturers that they must put the Surgeon General's warning label on their packs, which served little more than to become a legal defense for the producers of Tobacco Death. "It's not our fault: we warned them just like Congress told us to do."

Still, year after year Congress has voted huge amounts of money to subsidize tobacco production. This Subsidy grew into many forms. One was to move tobacco leaf sales from a private free market, to a government regulated market in order to control the price received by farmers.

It came in the form of Tobacco Allotments. These were established by our government to control supply. Each tobacco farmer had to have a tobacco Allotment attached to a piece of ground -- the exact acreage on his farm where tobacco was allowed to be grown -- in order to be able to sell his crop at auction.

To enforce this, our government set up an elaborate system of inspection, all paid for with taxpayer money. First, aerial photographs were acquired of every single tobacco patch in the South, no matter how big or small. And of course, this had to be done over and over, with each new growing season.
Then these were filed, county by county, farm by farm in offices which employed technicians to use a device known as a planimeter. These technicians spent endless hours tracing around the perimeter of each tobacco field with this device which converted the area on the photo to a precise acre figure, down to fractions of an acre. My first wife did this, helping pay my way thru NC State College, now a University, which still subsidizes Tobacco Death.

If a farmer planted more than his Allotment, specialists were sent out from the local US Department of Agriculture County Office to pull up and destroy the excess, bringing the farmer back into compliance with Federal law. You can imagine the amount of squawking that happened, and the hot tempers every tobacco agent in every County USDA Office had to endure. But the law was the law, passed by Congress to put price supports under the sales price of tobacco, so farmers accepted it.

Who benefited? Certainly not taxpayers paying the bill. Tobacco farmers benefited, because they received higher dollar for their work, which is considerable, because successfully growing tobacco is a multi-step complex process, far more than just sticking seed into ground. The ultimate benefactor of this enormous government promotion, education and market regulation for tobacco were the huge Tobacco Corporations, of which there are few.

Book after book has been written, for and against tobacco, in all it's aspects. The point here is that our government has been subsidizing Big Tobacco, whose products kill people -- in one way or another -- for over a century.  WHY?

(Pause to light up)  As fair disclosure, I have been an on-again, off-again smoker since I snuck my first drag with my school buddies at about age 14. Mostly, I've not, having once sworn an oath on the casket of a friend who died of cancer. Bill had been my student at NC State, and a colleague later in teaching Advertising and Graphic Design. And again I quit, when late adult life brought me a son, who I wanted to be able to go with, hiking up mountain trails without wheezing. After years of not smoking, I was instantly propelled back into it when I lost everything I owned in NC. Even stopping again after that, now a cigarette is the crutch I cannot do without when I write. But I don't hike mountains anymore.

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For 17 years Gene Messick studied and taught Design at NC State University and Cornell. Co-founding the Visual Design Program at NCSU, he established the Photography Program at Cornell, where he taught in the Architecture Department, most interested (more...)
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