04/14/04 — Sen. Dole calls tobacco buyout "essential"

View Archive

Sen. Dole calls tobacco buyout "essential"

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on April 14, 2004 1:59 PM

CLINTON -- Tobacco farmers could face a 33 percent reduction in their quota in 2005, which is even more of a reason why they desperately need a tobacco buyout, says U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

"A tobacco quota buyout is absolutely essential," said Mrs. Dole, who is a member of the Senate agriculture committee. She discussed the changes in the tobacco industry during a speech Tuesday in the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center. Around 800 people attended the seventh annual Sampson County Friends of Agriculture rally.

The quota has already been cut in half since 1997, and another one-third reduction would mean a loss of $200 million in income in North Carolina. It would also cause a ripple effect and hurt other industries like chemical and equipment dealers, she said.

"It affects every livelihood in North Carolina in some way."

There ended up being five different buyout bills in the House and one in the Senate last year, but none reached a vote. Those bills will be up for debate again this year.

The Senate did not move forward with a bill last year that authorized FDA regulation of tobacco products. Senate members believe that for a buyout to pass, it must be linked to FDA regulation. House members want a buyout without regulation.

Cigarette manufacturers also disagreed over FDA regulation, with one major manufacturer saying it would not support a buyout that did not have FDA regulation linked to it. Other tobacco companies oppose regulation.

Some senators representing tobacco states tried to move an amendment without FDA regulation through an omnibus appropriations bill. Mrs. Dole made a final effort to include a $7.2 billion buyout plan into a spending bill, but the leadership rejected it.

Domestic purchase intentions also continue to drop. The three-year export average has declined and the imported tobacco percentage in U.S. cigarette production is up to 55 percent.

The U.S. has only 7 percent of the world market, and Brazil is the number one tobacco competitor. More Brazilian tobacco is being imported into the U.S. each year, and it is exporting more to the same countries that the U.S. exports to. It also competes in soybeans, cotton, corn and other crops.

Mrs. Dole said she hopes the buyout will come this year, but farmers are unsure if it will happen.

"Until the House leadership decides that they are going to pursue it, we are dead in the water," said Jerry West, a farmer in northern Wayne and southern Wilson counties.

He said the buyout will not pass without FDA regulation, and if there is another one-third reduction in quota in 2005, "it will be the final nail in the coffin for many, many people."

Mrs. Dole noted that North Carolina is the second largest hog producing state in the country and ranks 14th in the country in grape production and 12th in wine production.

She said that exports are the key to the state's future and that more foreign markets need to be opened for American agricultural products.

She also expressed concern over hunger, which she said affects many in North Carolina. "It is the silent enemy lurking in too many homes," she said.

A way to help eradicate hunger would be to gather excess crops and distribute them to the needy. The main concern with this is transportation, but there could be a tax incentive offered to transportation companies to transport gleaned foods. She also said more poor children should be a part of the free lunch program at school.