Monday, February 02, 2009

Tobacco's back...

For all those who think farm programs are needed to provide a secure supply of farm output, another stark refutation now emerges from our fields: tobacco.
In 2004 the government got out of the tobacco business, and since then everything has changed. Gone are the price supports that kept the cost of American tobacco artificially high. And with the quota system gone, farmers can raise as much as they’d like wherever they’d like. To many, tobacco has become the poster child of how free global markets are supposed to work.
“We’re seeing that an agricultural sector can prosper and function well without those government mechanisms,” said David Orden, an economics professor at Virginia Tech and a researcher on agricultural policy.
Orden said the theory was that taking away the quota system would allow more production to take place at lower prices, and that would stimulate demand.
Which is exactly what has happened. Tobacco acreage has increased 20 percent in the last two years. Instead of bringing ruin, the government’s exit has brought rebirth for many growers like Keugel. [More]
Of course, our opinions on tobacco are quite different than radishes, but the market principles are the same. Well, except you can't get addicted to radishes (as far as I know). Still, Big Tobacco is doing some amazing stuff to counter the overwhelming outcry against smoking.
Consumers—heck, let's just call them what they are, addicts—seem to be going with the transition. According to Helliker:
[M]ore Americans are continuing to give up smoking, helping to push cigarette consumption down about 3% each year. ... Morgan Stanley estimates that U.S. consumers spent $4.77 billion on smokeless tobacco in 2007 versus $78 billion on cigarettes. Smokeless-tobacco sales have been increasing about 5% or more a year. ... "There are probably in excess of 400,000 adults switching to smokeless each year," says Seth Moskowitz, a spokesman for Reynolds American.
Two months ago, I called smokeless tobacco "carcinogenic, addictive, and gross." But guess what? It's becoming less gross:
For many people, smokeless tobacco conjures up an image of a wad of chewing tobacco bulging from the cheeks of users who spit brown juice. Instead, recent products consist of dissolvable pellets or tiny pouches of tobacco that reside invisibly in the mouth and induce no spitting.
And it's becoming less carcinogenic:
One recent study showed that some newer brands, with names like Ariva, Camel Snus and Marlboro Snus, have sharply lower levels of a dangerous carcinogen than do older varieties of smokeless tobacco, such as Copenhagen and Skoal. Britain's Royal College of Physicians, which sets health standards in the United Kingdom, has said smokeless tobacco is between one-tenth and one-one thousandth as hazardous as smoking, depending on the specific product.
So now we're down to addictiveness. And that, too, is adjustable:
The December study also found that Marlboro Snus contained a very low level of nicotine. By contrast, Camel Snus offers a jolt of nicotine that "has the potential to satisfy those smokers who are looking for a substitute to smoking, and to keep them addicted to this product," the authors said.
 [More of a three part post on the advances (?) in the tobacco industry]

I don't smoke and I don't find smokeless tobacco appealing, but it is clear many in farming do. And when Martin (first story) told me about growing tobacco in Illinois, I was stunned. It's easier to simply label it as evil and not bother with the science, I think, than to ask what exactly is our problem.

But of course, what if we did that for marijuana?


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