Tag Archives: tobacco growers

EPA Cites, Fines Vector Tobacco for Pesticide Misuse and Safety Issues

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently fined Vector Tobacco Inc. $65,040 for allegedly misusing six pesticides and failing to comply with federal pesticide worker safety laws, the EPA announced today.

Vector Tobacco, a subsidiary of Vector Tobacco Group of Durham, NC, allegedly misused six pesticides during their application at its agricultural research facility in Kekaha, Kauai, in 2005 and 2006.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture discovered the violations during inspections performed in March and June of 2006.

Worker complaints triggered the initial investigation. Since the inspections, Vector Tobacco has shut down the Kekaha facility.

The EPA said that on 93 occasions, Vector Tobacco failed to follow label directions intended to protect workers from exposure to pesticides, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.

Vector Tobacco also failed to provide its workers and pesticide handlers with required protective equipment, pesticide information, decontamination supplies, safety training, and notification that pesticides had been applied, the EPA said.

Pesticide Misuse in Tobacco IndustryThe tobacco company reportedly failed to prevent workers from entering areas where pesticides had recently been applied, and subsequently denied them prompt transportation to a medical facility after these workers reported averse health effects due to the pesticide exposure.

Source: The Honolulu Advertise

UT takes $445,000 of Philip Morris Money for Tobacco Grower Research

Should the University of Tennessee accept money from the tobacco industry to help promote the growth of domestic tobacco production?

That ethical question has yet to be debated—even nearly six months after UT quietly received a one-year $445,000 grant from Philip Morris to establish and operate a Center for Tobacco Grower Research in Morgan Hall on the Knoxville campus.

News of the grant is coming as a surprise to anti-smoking activists and even UT staff.

“It blows me away that UT would take money from a cigarette manufacturer, knowing that smoking kills,” says Douglas Benton, an Alcoa resident who earned a business degree at UT and founded No Smoking in Restaurants in Tennessee (NoSIR) in 2005. “I don’t like people making one penny off killing other people. I don’t understand why my university would try to help farmers to make more money selling something that has no possible benefit at all to a human.”

UT initially released its big news to ag extension agents, tobacco growers, and Burley strade publications where the reaction was positive. The inaugural Nov. 29 press release unabashedly quotes Philip Morris’ Vice President of Leaf, Jeanette Hubbard: “Because American tobacco is the backbone of our blends, a stable supply of U.S. tobacco is very important to Philip Morris USA. That’s why we are pleased to work with the University of Tennessee to support sustainability of U.S. tobacco production through the research conducted by the center.”

But there’s been hardly a murmur about the ethics of accepting funding from a manufacturer of tobacco products, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say cause 438,000 deaths in the United States per year, representing 5.5 million years of potential life lost and $167 billion in health-care costs and lost productivity annually.

“I’m not really catching any heat,” says the center’s director Daniel Green, who also worked with the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association. “Obviously you get some questions about, ‘Why tobacco?’ but we’re getting a lot of support from the growers.”

This support from growers will probably continue—after all, they stand to gain production and industry information that hasn’t been available since the 2004-2005 federal tobacco-quota buyout terminated federal tobacco price-support and supply-control programs, and the center’s research will undoubtedly provide them with ways to produce more competitively in the new free-market economy.

But away from the burley fields, opposition and outrage are mounting as more members of Tennessee’s public health community and UT alumni learn of the center’s creation and the source of its funding.

Jenny Carico, a nurse at Student Health Services who earned her Bachelor’s of Nursing at UT, says tobacco money funding anything on campus is ill-advised and unethical. “I think a great deal of tobacco marketing is geared to my patient population and it makes me spitting mad,” she says.

Tobacco According to the state Department of Health’s Prevalence of Tobacco Use in Tennessee, 1997-2007, smoking prevalence among adults ages 18-24 years is around 29 percent, compared to 22.6 percent of the state’s general population and 20.1 percent for the United States on the whole.

“The cigarette manufacturers are gunning for these kids with marketing that gets them started smoking at an age when they think they’re bulletproof,” she says. “By the time they figure out they’re not, they have to deal with the reality that tobacco is addictive, sometimes at great expense to their health—that’s not the kind of profit we want funding university research.”

The agricultural portion of the university community, though, doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

“You know, tobacco is still a legal commodity for farm owners to produce,” says Green, himself a non-smoker though he grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky. “Here, it’s just a part of agriculture—an important part of agriculture.”

Kelly Tiller, an assistant professor at UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, whose work is partially funded by Philip Morris, explains the agricultural community’s emotional disconnect between tobacco fatalities and the product they grow as a long-time cultural phenomenon, one that hasn’t changed much even though around three-fourths of the state’s tobacco growers ceased production after the federal tobacco-quota buyout.

“To them, tobacco growing is viewed as a legal farm enterprise that has provided a significant economic base for many of our rural communities for a very long time, and is tightly integrated into those communities,” Tiller says.

The research center, she says, will also emphasize tobacco merely as an agricultural commodity. “The data will revolve around the farm part of production, not cigarettes or any other manufactured products.”

All of the center’s reports and survey results will be available to the general public, ordinarily from summaries on the center’s website—with no proprietary information for Philip Morris. The benefit to the tobacco giant will be shared by other manufacturers and growers, says Tiller.

And Green hopes that more farmers will decide to grow tobacco because of the center’s research, which could also benefit Philip Morris and other national cigarette and tobacco-product manufacturers.

“While the primary objective will be to collect and disseminate information necessary to enhance the long-term sustainability of U.S. tobacco production, research conducted by the center may improve the success of current growers or attract new or former growers to the industry,” he says.

Green insists that more tobacco farmers, in Tennessee and other tobacco-growing states, would be good for the farm economy.

But Chastity Mitchell, contract lobbyist for the grassroots Campaign for Healthy & Responsible Tennessee (CHART), based in Nashville, is skeptical of more farmers getting in—or getting back to—tobacco production. She’s also wary of Philip Morris’ interest in Tennessee starting in 2007, the same year the state passed the Non-Smokers Protection Act prohibiting smoking in most public places and workplaces, increased its cigarette tax by $0.42 to $0.62 per pack, and significantly increased funding for its tobacco control program.

“I find it interesting that after the big policy year that we had in 2007…that Philip Morris would make this kind of significant investment in Tennessee to sustain the tobacco economy and even to try to recruit new growers,” says Mitchell, who has worked in Tennessee in tobacco control for the past eight years, including stints with the American Heart Association and as Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society. “We’ve seen, over the years, that domestically grown tobacco is just a minute fraction compared to what tobacco companies purchase worldwide.”

And growers had good reasons to get out of the tobacco business back in 2005—and to continue to stay out, says Mitchell. “They wouldn’t make the same money that they did with price supports, they don’t have the allotment anymore…and to try to get them back, especially when manufacturers like Philip Morris are continuing to buy more and more overseas, it’s just a really strange situation.”

The Philip Morris investment may also cast a shadow on UT Agricultural Economics’ relationship with the public health community, says Mitchell, even though they’ve historically collaborated on tobacco issues that affected both groups, facilitated by Tiller, who was a tobacco policy analyst almost nine years before the research center’s creation.

“I think those collaborations fostered a good bit of communication, but now that we know Dr. Tiller is involved with this Tobacco Research Center, and Philip Morris is underwriting it, it would certainly make those in the public health community hesitant to sit down and have an open dialogue with the tobacco growers, knowing how they’re funded.”

At least on the surface, the Philip Morris money does not seem to benefit the University of Tennessee’s bottom line. It does cover Green’s entire salary and overhead at his Morgan Hall office, but he’s a new hire, not an existing member of the faculty. A small portion goes to cover part of Dr. Tiller’s salary, and a graduate assistant who would come from the Agricultural School is budgeted, but hasn’t been hired. The vast majority pays for data collection expenses.

But even if UT won’t get a new wing for the Ag school, or millions in discretionary funds, NoSIR’s Benton can see no excuse for taking Philip Morris money.

“It’s incredible that an institute of higher learning would promote smoking when ordinarily the more educated people are, the less likely they are to smoke,” Benton says. “I think the university has to learn to be like the rest of us…that sometimes you just have to put your foot down and say, ‘No.’”

Source: —Rose Kennedy, Metro Pulse

Tobacco Harvester’s Rights: Tobacco’s Other Victims

Ideally, tobacco should be outlawed.

But as long as people continue to use the deadly stuff, those who harvest it for the great profit of tobacco companies deserve far better than the miserable pay and working conditions imposed on them.

“Miserable” is not an exaggeration. Consider North Carolina, the country’s leading tobacco producer. The state’s $500 million-a-year crop is harvested by more than 25,000 workers, most of them Mexican immigrants. Some are documented “guest workers,” some undocumented. Some are as young as 12, as state law allows.

The harvesters make at most about $7 an hour or about $7,100 a year for dangerous, backbreaking work.

Most work for growers who do not provide health-care benefits and are exempt from the law that requires workers’ compensation payments for employees who are hurt on the job. Thousands of the workers are afflicted yearly with “green tobacco sickness,” caused by overexposure to the highly toxic nicotine in tobacco leaves absorbed into their bodies.

Harvesting TobaccoSymptoms often last for several days. Victims may feel a general weakness or shortness of breath, for instance, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, cramps, heightened blood pressure or speeded-up heart rates. At the least, they break out in rashes.

The nicotine also raises workers’ body temperature, already high because of the heat in which they work, even higher, sometimes to the point of causing life-threatening dehydration and heatstroke. Yet many workers get little or no medical attention. They’re lucky if they even get rest breaks during their working hours.

Living conditions are generally as bad as the working conditions. Most of the workers live in crowded, dilapidated, frequently rodent-infested shacks in labor camps or in broken-down trailers, many without so much as a fan to cool the stifling summer air and most near fields that are regularly sprayed with dangerous pesticides.

Workers who dare complain about their working or living conditions face the prospect of being fired or turned over to government authorities for deportation.

But there’s finally hope for change, thanks to the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), an AFL-CIO affiliate that has helped thousands of workers win agreements from employers in several states to raise their pay and benefits and otherwise treat them decently. That includes some 7,000 farmworkers who harvest other North Carolina crops for pay at least $2 an hour higher than the tobacco workers get.

Backed by an array of community and religious groups, including the National Council of Churches, the FLOC has launched a drive to win agreements from tobacco growers, primarily through pressure on one of the largest and most influential of the tobacco companies that buy their crops.

That’s RJ Reynolds, whose eight brands account for one of every three cigarettes sold in this country. As the FLOC notes, Reynolds continues to make billions while those who pick the tobacco that goes into its products live “in abject poverty.”

Reynolds officials have so far refused even to meet with FLOC representatives to discuss the union’s demand that tobacco workers be granted union rights and an agreement that would recognize “their need for dignity, respect and safe working conditions.”

Reynolds asserts that it should not deal with the union or other worker representatives because the tobacco workers are not employed by the company. They work for the growers who sell the tobacco they pick to Reynolds and other companies, which set the price and thus determine how much the growers can afford to pay the workers.

But as FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez notes: “The farmers don’t control the system. Those companies control the money, and they benefit the most from the stoop labor of these workers. We’re saying, ‘Hey, you need to own up to the situation that you’re implicated in.’ ” And if they don’t own up?

Velasquez points to the union’s five-year-long boycott that finally forced another major North Carolina corporation, the Mount Olive Pickle Co., to raise the price it pays growers for cucumbers in order to finance higher pay for their workers and to allow union organizers into their labor camps.

Velasquez also mentions the possibility of union demonstrations at meetings of Reynolds shareholders and actions against companies that Reynolds does business with.

Dick Meister has covered labor issues for a half-century. He is co-author of “A Long Time Coming: The Struggle to Unionize America’s Farm Workers” (Macmillan). Contact him through his Web site, www.dickmeister.com. The articles is distributed by Scripps Howard News Service (www.shns.com).

Source: The Korea Times