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Congress OKs Toxic Chemicals & Pesticides on Imported Tobacco

From: <www.commondreams.org>

U.S. to Quit Inspecting Tobacco for Banned Chemicals and Pesticides

by Nancy Zuckerbrod

October 17, 2004 WASHINGTON - Legislation just passed by Congress abolishes the requirement that the government inspect imported tobacco to ensure it is not laced with
chemicals and pesticides banned in the United States but permitted elsewhere.

That means imported leaf, which U.S. tobacco companies are increasingly
relying on, could make cigarettes even more harmful, said Tom Glynn,
director of science and trends for the American Cancer Society.

Glynn said about 60 of the 4,000 or so chemicals in cigarette smoke are
linked to cancer. "What this may do is just add to that number, making an
already toxic product even more toxic," he said.

The Agriculture Department, the Homeland Security Department and the Food
and Drug Administration all have authority to inspect other imported
agricultural products to ensure they meet U.S. standards. Officials at those
agencies said they did not know of another agricultural product that comes
into this country without some kind of inspection.

U.S. farmers are unhappy about the end of foreign inspections on tobacco.
The change was included in legislation that will pay tobacco growers $10
billion and end a Depression-era program that set price and production
controls on American-grown leaf.

The tobacco plan is part of a major corporate tax bill that is awaiting
President Bush's signature.

The federal tobacco program included foreign and domestic leaf inspections.
Lawmakers were reluctant to retain any part of the program, which growers
and cigarettes makers had paid for, and did not want the public to cover any
of the costs. The legislation requires cigarette makers to fund the buyout.

Growers had complained for years that the old quota system kept their
tobacco prices too high to compete with imported tobacco. But they now say
they would like assurances their foreign competitors will not try to lower
production costs by relying on pesticides such as DDT, which is banned in
the United States.

These farmers also say foreign growers use chemicals not permitted in the
United States that make tobacco leaves more pliable and easier to harvest.

"If they know it's not going to be inspected, they're going to take the
cheapest route whatever that might be," said Rod Kuegel, a tobacco farmer
from Owensboro, Ky.

Kuegel worries that growers in developing countries may take this route.
African and South American countries are among the leading exporters of
tobacco.

Both Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette manufacturer, and
leading rival Reynolds American plan to inspect foreign tobacco that they
use and test for outlawed chemicals, company spokesmen said. Philip Morris
spokesman Mike Farriss said the costs should be minimal.

Even so, small cigarette manufacturers that sell discount brands are
unlikely to conduct such inspections, said Arnold Hamm, assistant general
manager of a Raleigh, N.C.-based growers' cooperative.

Lamar DeLoach, president of the Tobacco Growers Association of Georgia,
said he is concerned about relying on manufacturers that pledge to test.

"I guess my only problem with that is that other commodities that come into
this country have federal inspections, and federal inspections ought to
allow the people to know what's coming in," DeLoach said.

"If I'm bringing in bananas, and I just tell the government, 'Well don't
worry about inspecting these. I'll do it myself,' how comfortable would you
as a consumer feel about me doing that?"

© Copyright 2004 Associated Press

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