Big Tobacco, Tobacco Farmers and the Need for Nicotine….
The modern tobacco farming industry (Little Tobacco, if you like, as opposed to the Big Tobacco industry it serves) is certainly facing challenging times. The World Health Organisation has voiced concerns that tobacco farmers in poorer countries are getting a raw deal, and even in the US, the tobacco farmer is no longer quite the king he once was.
In an article entitled For Today’s Tobacco Farmers, It’s Diversify or Die which states:
“Tobacco is not just a commodity. It is a culture, a way of life, and a multi-billion dollar business. And it is the most controversial crop on the planet.
There is so much discussion about the health hazards and the politics of cigarettes. They kill people, yet taxes on them sustain so many government services. [...]
[This has to be the most cynical element of the whole process, as far as I can tell.]
It’s diversify or go out of business. The major U.S.-based tobacco companies [yes, this link shows you how their stocks continue to rise…] are buying less, and that has made it a lot more difficult for farmers to make a living. [...]
As Furnish [a Kentucky tobacco farmer] has doubled down on tobacco and has turned into a salesman, Clark [another tobacco farmer]has become a 21st century farmer, diversifying his crop. He now raises cattle, chickens and sells hay.
But in spite of all the issues, involved, it’s still worth the headaches and risks for Clark and for Furnish.
‘Tobacco’s been the backbone of our economy in Kentucky for over 100 years,’ Furnish said. ‘It’s still the number one cash crop.
‘There’s no replacement for it.’”
CNBC summarise this issue as follows:
Tobacco was once the biggest cash crop in America. But today farmers are facing many challenges as the World Health Organization and politicians continue to wage war on tobacco.”
Wage war? With those share prices? Really? No, but… really?? What’s happening at the moment doesn’t look so much like waging war as white-washing… and attempting to hold the human race in contempt!
And the future? Well, according to CNBC:
Banning tobacco flavorings could be disastrous for many tobacco growers. The Canadian government, in an attempt to reduce teen smoking, has enacted a ban on flavorings in cigarettes. Nearly 200 countries have pledged to follow suit.”
And there’s much, much more…
In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General publicly declared the health hazards of smoking.
Since then, smoking rates have been basically cut in half. In 2011, there are approximately 50 million smokers in the United States.
But globally, the number is 1 billion … and growing.
It’s not difficult to reach the conclusion that tobacco’s future is outside of North America. That’s why both cigarette maker and tobacco farmer are shifting their focus.
‘In Eastern Europe, the sales are increasing,’ said Brian Furnish during a trade show in Krakow, Poland. Furnish is an eighth-generation tobacco farmer who also represents a five-state tobacco cooperative that is trying to sell millions of pounds of burley tobacco all over the world — in Poland, Indonesia, China, Egypt and Serbia, for example. [...]
‘We go to the parts of the world where the population is increasing and where the consumption is increasing,’ he said.
Just a few years ago, Furnish only exported about 15-percent of his crop. In 2011, it’s closer to 85-percent. He thinks the U.S. tobacco market does not have a bright future.
‘I think the future of it’s very bleak,’ said Furnish. ‘I think you’re going to have to be an export market.’
The numbers support Furnish’s stance. More people smoke in China (320 million) than there are people in the United States (308 million). India has about 240 million tobacco users, while Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia add another 150 million.
Furnish compartmentalizes the health side of the debate and the criticisms that the tobacco companies — and the growers — are exporting a health crisis.
‘We try to stay out of the health side and the smoking ban issues and things like that,’ said Furnish. It’s still a legal product in the world, and people are gonna consume it.
‘We just think they ought to be consuming ours.’ [...]
But the anti-tobacco movement wants to stop him.
‘In the developing world, these populations are, in a sense, much more defenseless than populations are in the United States,’ said Neil Schluger, a pulmonologist with the World Lung Foundation. ‘There’s much less government regulation. There’s probably much more corruption.
‘So, the populations there are much more vulnerable to what the tobacco companies are trying to do.’”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) seems quite keen to protect tobacco farmers, too. In a published document entitled WHO Technical Manual on Tobacco Tax Administration (which, by the way, contains some ridiculous omissions in terms of the studies upon which it relies), the WHO tells us:
“Countries that are concerned about the impact of tobacco tax increases on domestic employment in tobacco dependent sectors can alleviate these concerns by adopting programmes that would ease the transition from tobacco farming and manufacturing to other economic activity. Crop diversification programmes that support farmers and retraining programmes for those involved in tobacco product manufacturing could easily be funded by a small portion of the new revenues that result from increases in taxes on tobacco products. In Turkey, for example, the government sponsored ‘alternative crop programme’ that was implemented in anticipation of the privatization of the country’s cigarette monopoly has proven effective in moving many tobacco farmers to other crops (Yurekli et al., forthcoming).”
I’m no economist, but ‘O’-Level Maths tells me that producing considerably less tobacco as tobacco farmers are
bribed persuaded to raise alternative crops, while simultaneously increasing tobacco product taxes doesn’t seem to add up over even the medium term, much less the long term; unless, of course, it is recognised from the outset that this notion is doomed to failure.
And, correct me if I’m wrong, but it strikes me that there is the potential for a whole new industry extracting and purifying the nicotine, straight from the tobacco plant, with or without its having to be smoked first. Perhaps Big Tobacco could work WITH Little Tobacco on this, then market their purified product to pharma, the smokeless tobacco industry, and the recreational ecig market?
Nirvana, I know, but the common sense is undeniable. At the moment, however, it appears we cannot see the wood for the tobacco plants.
As for harm reduction, the WHO does not seem to be able to take this seriously, which is extremely alarming, but perhaps this is merely another example of its failure to consider the entirety of the evidence available. In the aforementioned document (pp.89-90) we find this:
“Recognizing past misrepresentations and current uncertainties, at this point in time, designing a tobacco tax system that favours products perceived to be safer while disfavouring those perceived to be more harmful should await clear evidence of a harm reduction benefit for both the individuals using the products and the public health of the general population.”
OK, so now that this clear evidence is available – and growing all the time – concerning smokeless tobacco products such as snus, and electronic cigarettes, the WHO has of course produced an updated report, alerting governments around the world to these significant advances and opportunities to get to grips with the tobacco problem internationally, hasn’t it?