Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Farmers' dependence on tobacco tough habit to break

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In Kentucky, tobacco is king. More than 120,000 farmers grow burley tobacco, a key ingredient in cigarettes. Kentucky produces at least 70 percent of the nation's burley.

        This year, tobacco sales will generate almost $500 million in the state. In years past, that amount has approached $1 billion.

        In Carroll County alone, an hour's drive from downtown Cincinnati, nearly 500 farmers grow 1.5 million pounds of tobacco each season. And Carrollton, the county seat, is home to five tobacco warehouses, which auction the to bacco from farms throughout the Tristate, including Indiana.

        It is no secret that the state's elected leaders, many of whom are tobacco growers, have been slow to get tough on tobacco. Rather, legislation is still being passed to support it.

        Kentucky is set to receive about $3 billion over 20 years from court settlements in which tobacco companies agreed to pay individual states for tobacco's health-related costs.

        So far, the Kentucky General Assembly has earmarked about $20 million of that money over the next two years for smoking cessation, prevention and lung cancer research programs. The amount, though, is paltry compared to other states' use of their settlement money.

        Michigan, for example, has committed $50 million in tobacco funds a year for biomedical research. And Ohio earmarked $20.3 million for smoking-related health programs over the next 18 months.

        Cigarettes are cheaper here, too, because Kentucky's excise tax is only 3 cents a pack, the same as it was 30 years ago. That is the second-lowest in the nation behind Virginia, which charges 2.5 cents. In Ohio the tax is 24 cents; it's 15.5 cents in Indiana.


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