tobacco

Gov. Steve Beshear has vetoed part of a bill that appropriates money from the state’s settlement with tobacco companies.

The bill had set aside money to fill an estimated $26.6 million shortfall to fund agriculture, lung cancer research and early childhood programs.

The governor deleted the line that would have appropriated $26.6 million, saying that the shortfall has grown to $37 million.

“Taking this action now provides a solution to this late-breaking problem and avoids budget cuts to the very same programs for which the General Assembly, in this bill, provides additional funding for next year,” Beshear said in his veto statement.

The bill restores funds to several programs that are funded by a multi-state, multi-million dollar settlement stemming from a 1998 lawsuit against tobacco companies. Additional money for the programs comes from a smaller settlement Attorney General Jack Conway secured from tobacco companies last year.

The Kentucky state Senate is poised to pass a bill that would restore funds to several programs associated with the 1998 tobacco settlement.

Revenue from the tobacco settlement has flagged as fewer people have bought cigarettes in the state, leading to shortfalls in programs dealing with agriculture, early childhood, cancer research and programs that help people quit smoking.

“It’s what our revenue’s based on and as that goes down, the divisions to each one of those agencies goes down also,” said Sen. Paul Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville who sponsored the bill.

The extra money comes from a new settlement the state made with tobacco companies in 2014. Under the agreement, the state received an additional $110 million in fiscal year 2014 and over the next three years will receive $57.2 million more than the state had budgeted to receive from the tobacco settlement.

The bill also ensures that the money from the settlement can only be appropriated by the legislature. Last year Gov. Steve Beshear used the money to restore $42.5 million in budget cuts to lung cancer research, agriculture and other health assistance.

Several Senate Republicans suggested that Beshear’s use of the funds was a breach of power and that budget appropriations should be left to the legislature.

Kids under 18 can't buy cigarettes in the U.S., but they can legally work in tobacco fields when they're as young as 12.

One of those kids is Eddie Ramirez, 15, who works the fields in the summer.

"It just sticks to my hand," he says of the plant. "It's really sticky, you know, and really yellow." It's nearly impossible to wash off, he says.

Kentucky's tobacco industry has undergone major changes in the past few decades from the way it's grown and harvested, to the way it's sold and marketed. WKU folklore professor Dr. Ann Ferrell spent the past eight years researching what the changes have meant to tobacco families and what the future holds in her new book "Burley: Kentucky Tobacco in a New Century".

Kentucky tobacco farmers stand to lose an estimated $12 million because of federal budget cuts related to the sequester. Those cuts are scheduled to hit the next round of price support payments sent to about 100,000 Kentucky tobacco farmers and quota holders.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney told WKU Public Radio the payments should be exempt from the federal spending cuts.

"This shouldn't even be considered for sequestration because it's actually a contract that was signed between the tobacco producers and the tobacco manufacturers. Really, the federal government was just holding the money and making the program work."

Haney says members of Kentucky's congressional delegation and farm lobby are teaming up with their counterparts in other states as the next tobacco quota payment nears.

The year 2014 may be one of uncertainty for Kentucky’s farmers.

The federal Tobacco Transition Payment Program will end in January. For 10 years, the program has given farmers across the nation money to diversify their crops away from tobacco. Earlier this year, a federal court found that Kentucky's management of Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds was “non-diligent.” As a penalty a percentage of the payment will be withheld.

Roger Thomas is executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. He told lawmakers Wednesday the reduction could affect programs such as Kentucky Proud and state-supported farmer's markets.

“I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic that the programs that I have mentioned here today, the good programs that have such a tremendous impact on not just agriculture, but Kentucky as a whole, that these programs will be able to continue in the future as they had in the past.”

Thomas said he would have a clearer picture of the effect that reductions in federal funding will have by March next year.

Dan Modlin / WKU Public Radio

The latest federal data shows the nation's top tobacco companies have reduced spending on advertising and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in recent years. Figures from the Federal Trade Commission show cigarette marketing declined more than five percent to $8.05 billion from 2009 to 2010, the latest year for which figures are available.

For burley tobacco farmers in Kentucky and Tennessee, an average crop being forecast is a big relief.  A few weeks ago, the crop was on the brink of ruin from extreme heat and drought. 

Although many communities in the U.S. have taken steps to curb smoking, Kentucky tobacco growers continue to benefit from export sales. However, the government in New Zealand today is taking some very strong steps to discourage tobacco use.

WKU Public Radio/Dan Modlin

Tobacco companies will be required to report the levels of dangerous chemicals found in chew, cigarettes, and other products under the latest rules designed to tighten regulation of the tobacco industry.  The Associated Press reports that preliminary guidance issued by the Food and Drug Administration marks the first time tobacco firms will be required to report quantities of 20 chemicals associated with lung disease, cancer, and other health problems. 

Pages