Comments for the Commission - C. Stan Eury, Jr., 2/15/01 4:43PM  

February 15, 2001

President’s Tobacco Commission
STOP 0574
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-0574

Dear Commissioners:

    I am writing on behalf of the North Carolina Growers Association to comment
on the Preliminary Report of the President’s Tobacco Commission.  The
Commission was reportedly established to “recommend such measures as may be
necessary to improve economic opportunity” for tobacco growers.  Yet many
suspected when the Commission was formed that it would merely serve as a
forum for public health advocates to promote reduced tobacco production,
greater federal regulation, and higher tobacco taxes.  The preliminary
report supports these suspicions.

    1.  The preliminary report is timid in its recommendation for expanding the
export of tobacco leaf.  The report is full of suggestions for reducing the
“dependence” of farmers on tobacco.  It favors moving farmers away from
tobacco production.  The report calls for assuring that foreign leaf imports
are “held to as stringent health and safety standards as U.S. leaf.”  But
when it comes to increasing imports of U.S. leaf, the report merely states
that “U.S. export policies concerning tobacco leaf should be reviewed.”  A
more objective approach would include at least two changes.  First, the
report should recommend that substantial action be taken immediately to open
new foreign markets, with special emphasis on the Chinese market.  The
preliminary report is ambiguous on this point.  Second, an increased role by
the federal government is needed to promote leaf exports, similar to efforts
made on behalf of other commodities.  The public health community effort
years ago to ban tobacco from agricultural commodity export promotion
programs has done nothing to reduce global consumption, but has greatly
penalized U.S. tobacco producers.  As a recent USDA report noted, “(s)ome
lower income countries are further put off by the absence of a U.S.
Government credit program for tobacco exports (to guarantee commercial
credit), which is forbidden by legislation.”  The report should specifically
call for this situation to be reversed.
Our tobacco is safer than foreign tobacco.  Replacing the market share of
unsafe tobacco with our safer tobacco will not result in increased smoking.

    2.  Higher federal excise taxes will NOT improve economic opportunities for
tobacco farmers.  The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement raised the price of a
pack of cigarettes by an estimated 55 to 60 cents per pack.  Federal tobacco
taxes were just increased ten cents per pack, with an additional five cents
per pack increase scheduled for January 1, 2002.  Several states have
dramatically increased tobacco excise taxes in the last few years.
Increases in tobacco excise taxes have immediate, negative implications for
tobacco quotas.  In an era of $5.6 trillion federal budget surpluses, the
Commission should strenuously oppose any further increases in tobacco excise
taxes, which will clearly decrease economic opportunities for tobacco
growers.  The Commission should strongly recommend that assistance for
tobacco growers be included in any proposals made by the President or the
Congress for how to spend the budget surplus. Unfortunately, the preliminary
report completely ignores the use of record federal budget surpluses as a
funding options.  This fuels suspicions about whose agenda the Commission is
attempting to advance.

    3.  The preliminary report appears to be intentionally misleading in its
portrayal of the youth tobacco usage issue.  On page 15 of the preliminary
report, Table I purports to represent the current situation regarding youth
tobacco usage.  The chart identifies the “youth smoking” rate as ranging
from 29.6% to 41.5% in six tobacco producing states, and 32.3% in other
states.  There are no citations for the source, year, age group or incidence
of smoking upon which these figures are based.  There is no reference in the
preliminary report to the dramatic declines in youth usage of all tobacco
products which have occurred since 1997.  And there is no reference to the
fact that these declines have undercut efforts in the public health
community to increase regulation or raise taxes on tobacco products.
Several recent studies commonly used by the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services have shown significant declines in youth smoking rates since
1997.  For example, the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which is
published annually by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency
within HHS, monitors cigarette use (past month use) for individuals age
12-17.  The most recent survey shows youth smoking rates peaking for 20.2%
in 1995 and declining to 15.9% in 1999.  In addition, the “Monitoring the
Future” (MTF) study conducted annually by the University of Michigan and
frequently cited by HHS shows 12th grade prevalence of daily use declining
from 24.6% in 1997 to 20.6% in 2000.  The Commission needs to be less biased
in its reporting of youth usage information.

    The Executive Order directed the Commission to recommend measures to
improve economic opportunities for tobacco growers while considering the
impact of such recommendations on public health.  Instead, the preliminary
report seems designed to primarily promote the public health agenda while
making the economic well being of tobacco growers secondary.  It is my hope
that these priorities will be reversed in any final product produced by the
Commission.  Grower organizations would like to be part of the process and
hope our comments and suggestions would be included.


C. Stan Eury, Jr.
Executive Director