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Local tobacco farmers worry about FDA regulation

19 June 2009 1,519 views No Comment

A half-century-long debate came to an end Friday when President Barack Obama signed a bill that will take the mystery out of cigarette ingredients and give the government more control over the tobacco industry.

The law puts tobacco products under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tobacco products soon will include a complete list of ingredients, and tobacco manufacturers will no longer be allowed to sell candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, based on provisions in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

The measure for the first time will give the FDA authority to regulate what goes into tobacco products, demand changes or elimination of toxic substances and block the introduction of new products.

The thousand health and consumer groups that endorsed the bill say that, combined with other anti-smoking efforts, it can significantly reduce the 400,000 deaths and $100 billion in health care costs attributed every year to smoking in the U.S.

To some local farmers, the bill’s passage seems positive on the surface, but many growers remain concerned.

“If it’s something that will make tobacco safer, I don’t think anyone would oppose that,” said Eddie Warren, a long-time Madison County tobacco farmer and owner of Warren’s Farm & Greenhouse on Barnes Mill Road. “This issue has been batted around for several years, and it’s never had the votes to get passed until now.”

The Senate passed the FDA bill Thursday by a 79-17 vote and the House followed suit on Friday, with a 307-97 vote.

“As growers, it’s the unknown that’s our concern,” Warren said. “We’re concerned about whether or not it will affect the way we produce our crop. There’s any number of ways that something could be done that’s going to alter the way we grow our crops. One of our manufacturers is in favor of the FDA regulations, but some smaller (manufacturers) are not in favor of it. That makes us wonder how it’s going to affect the marketplace.”

Amy Barkley with Kentucky Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids said several local health groups are applauding the action.

“This is really an enormous victory for public health,” Barkley said. “It will go a long way toward saving lives and preventing kids from smoking in both Kentucky and the nation.”

Both of Kentucky’s U.S. Sens., Republicans Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, voted against the final passage of the legislation. The tobacco industry had opposed the bill, citing the law’s requirement to disclose product ingredients as a violation of trade secrets.

Barkley said tobacco products no longer will receive special treatment when it comes to protecting public health.

“It will make sure consumers are fully informed about the health effects of tobacco use and exactly what is in cigarettes, and it will also virtually eliminate advertising that appeals to youth,” she said.

Exposing the ingredients of cigarettes will have minimal effect on adult smokers, according to Doug Burton, owner of Doug’s Smoke & Gift Shop at 451 Big Hill Avenue.

“It’s probably not going to hurt the purchases,” Burton said. “They’re going to smoke anyway.”

The new bill is just another example of the government becoming too involved in citizens’ personal lives and trying to persuade them to do something, Burton said.

“I think it should be left up to the individual what they want to smoke or eat,” he said. “We should have a little say about it. The next thing you know, you’re going to go to McDonald’s and order two hamburgers, and they’re only going to give you one.”

Americans should do more to protect themselves in cases where the government tries to become involved, Burton said.

“Until American people start standing up, the government is going to continue to do so,” he said. “And anything they (the government) touch, they screw up.”

The government has good intentions with this bill in that it hopefully will educate adult and youth smokers, according to Ruth R. Davis, MSN, RN, CHES and health education director for the Center of Excellence in Public Health Education. The center is a part of the Madison County Health Department.

“Some smokers will continue to ignore all information and warnings about the harmful effects of cigarette smoking and tobacco use,” Davis said “Others will take the information about ingredients in tobacco products seriously and attempt to quit using these highly addictive substances.”

Davis agreed with Barkley in that the law will cut down on underage tobacco sales.

“Marketing and sales to youth will be more tightly controlled and hopefully this will discourage use of tobacco products,” Davis said. “Ban of candy-flavored cigarettes will take away the misperceptions of cigarettes being harmless to children.”

Visit www.govtrack.us and search for H.R. 1256 for more information about the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 624-6608.

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