WASHINGTON — Kentucky burley tobacco growers and several members of the state's congressional delegation are pushing back against proposed recommendations from the World Health Organization that would ban many of the ingredients used in American-style blended cigarettes.
"American cigarettes are 50 percent of the entire global market. When you have 50 percent of the global market that has burley in it and America exports the burley that we grow, it would have a huge impact on American growers," said Roger Quarles, president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative in Lexington and the International Tobacco Growers Association in Portugal, which is made up of 22 tobacco-growing countries.
Canada, Norway and the European Union are spearheading the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control efforts to encourage other world governments to ban the use of flavor-enhancing ingredients in all tobacco products. American tobacco growers say that the flavorings are needed to make cigarettes containing burley more palatable and that the bans would unfairly target products made in the United States.
The WHO's proposal takes a cue from a Canadian law that went into effect last week that bans fruit and bubble-gum flavors and similar additives to cigarettes and cigarillos. The WHO proposals go a step further and ban the use of all flavor-enhancing additives—including menthol, a common ingredient in cigarettes that contain burley tobacco.
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Several members of the state's congressional delegation wrote Canadian lawmakers to protest the measure and have since written Norwegian officials to urge that nation to reconsider its stance.
"We believe these overly broad guidelines are a threat to the livelihood of American tobacco growers. If enacted, these sweeping guidelines could damage trade relationships between the U.S. and other nations by favoring one type of product over another," Sen. Jim Bunning — along with Reps. Ed Whitfield, Hal Rogers, Ben Chandler, Brett Guthrie and Geoff Davis — wrote in a letter late last month to the Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs.
Lawmakers who voted last year against allowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco and are protesting the WHO proposal include some of the top recipients of campaign contributions from tobacco manufacturers — Republicans Whitfield and Bunning rank fifth and 11th with $228,435 and $195,166, respectively.
According to 2007 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kentucky ranks second in overall tobacco exports, and the crop pumps more than $386.4 million into the state's economy.
For its part, the WHO maintains that it is working to fight "the globalization of the tobacco epidemic," a mission that includes regulating tobacco products' contents.