Some Family Farmers' "True Friends"

February 17, 2000

The rhetoric sounds familiar: globalized, profiteering companies are moving processing plants to foreign countries where labor and raw materials are cheap; small, family owned farms are disappearing; and NAFTA will force the remainder to compete with lower-cost Mexican products.

It may sound like unions lamenting free trade, but here the source and the object of concern are surprising: major American public health organizations expressing concern about the plight of -- tobacco farmers. And they want to help tobacco farmers "betrayed" by the cigarette companies -- the farmers' "false friends."

Thus the American Cancer Society and other health groups have issued a report that says price supports for domestic tobacco should be maintained; a multibillion dollar program of readjustment assistance for displaced workers and communities is needed; and billions more should be spent to develop "harmless" products from tobacco.

  • In the 1950s, there were more than 500,000 small family tobacco farms; today there are fewer than 85,000, with a drop of more than 100,000 just since 1980.
  • Since 1980, the U.S. share of worldwide tobacco exports has been cut almost in half, to less than 11 percent.
  • And from 1997 to 1999 U.S. cigarette companies reduced purchases of American tobacco leaf for domestic cigarette manufacturing by roughly 35 percent.

Increased global demand for "American-blend" cigarettes could have significantly increased overall demand for U.S. tobacco leaf and American-made cigarettes, notes the report, but cigarette companies have provided direct financial and technical assistance to foreign growers to produce tobacco and cigarettes of the American type and quality.

The 1998 McCain bill would have directed $28 billion to help growers and cigarette factory workers, their families and communities adjust to declining demand. But the tobacco companies sucessfully opposed the bill.

(On February 16, 2000 some tobacco farmers filed suit against major cigarette makers, saying they have cheated the farmers and quota holders out of their fair share of tobacco growing.)

Source: Eric Lindblom, "False Friends: Cigarette Companies' Betrayal of American Tobacco Growers," Special Report, December 14, 1999, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association and American Cancer Society.

 

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