Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

August 23rd, 2016:

Why Tobacco Farmers In Robertson County Are Switching To Indigo

On one summer morning, David Fulton, left, and Larry Williams inspect a sprig of an indigo plant in Fulton's field.

On one summer morning, David Fulton, left, and Larry Williams inspect a sprig of an indigo plant in Fulton’s field.

Tobacco is still the biggest cash crop in many Tennessee fields, as it’s been for generations.

But farmers are looking for other options that aren’t quite so difficult to grow. And some, like David Fulton in Robertson County, are turning to an unusual crop: indigo — the plant that can be used to dye denim.

Fulton unlocks a gate on the side of a quiet backcountry road. Behind it is a small field bordered by trees. It’s just 4 acres, out of a thousand that he farms.

“OK,” he says. “Let’s go look at some indigo.”

Startup Crop

The first thing to know about indigo plants is that they are, in fact, green. They look like tiny bushes growing in neat rows.

“Evidently, it appears to be doing something right,” Fulton says, eyeing the field. “I don’t really know what it’s supposed to look like, but that right there looks pretty good to me.”

There’s a lot he doesn’t know about indigo yet, including some basic things, like: How do these green plants turn into blue dye?

This is his first year growing indigo, and his neighbor, David Williams, is also growing it for the first time. He points to one of Fulton’s plants.

“I saw a leaf right there somewhere that has some purple in it, some color in it,” Williams says.

“The dye is actually going to come at the bloom,” Fulton says, pointing to where the plants will flower.

“I thought it was the leaf itself,” Williams says.

It turns out, Williams is right. The dye does come from the leaf.

It’s not that these men didn’t do their research. They tried to, Fulton says. There’s just not much information out there about growing indigo. The last time the crop was commercially grown in this part of the world was before the American Revolution — 240 years ago.

A Hard Lifeline

When it comes to tobacco, though, these men are experts.

Despite all the changes in the industry over the past few decades, tobacco is still big business in Robertson County, just north of Nashville. Production has barely dipped since the early ’90s, according to Paul Hart, University of Tennessee’s extension agent in Robertson County.

“None of the young people want to work in tobacco. It’s a nasty job. Every bit of it is hot and nasty.”

Fulton and Williams are both in their 50s, and they’ve worked in tobacco fields since they were kids. It’s paid for mortgages. It’s sent children to college.

Williams says it’s also just part of who they are.

“I’m the fifth generation on my farm,” he says. “Grandfathers, great-grandfathers, raised tobacco.”

It’s easy to get nostalgic about tobacco this time of year, during the harvest. Fulton points out barns where, soon, they’ll cure the leaves they’ve harvested, smoking them with smoldering wood for weeks.

“People will stop and say, ‘My god, your barn’s on fire!’ And I say, ‘No, that’s just part of it,’ ” he says.

“You’ll know the smell when you go by the barn,” Williams adds. “It’s a feeling of, the harvest is over. It’s just a good feeling.”

But the rest of the year, raising tobacco is not particularly fun or easy. It’s a finicky crop, susceptible to diseases, and it’s extremely labor-intensive. Every part of the process is done by hand — from the planting to the harvesting and curing — and this next generation isn’t sticking around to do it.

“The labor doesn’t seem to be out there anymore. None of the young people want to work in tobacco. It’s a nasty job. Every bit of it is hot and nasty,” Williams says. “Can’t blame ’em.”

Easier Alternatives

Labor has gotten more expensive, which cuts into profits. So even though tobacco is what they know, both men have been on the lookout for alternatives — things that are easier to grow and can still make some money.

Then, earlier this year, they heard about a local company called Stony Creek Colors. The startup had developed a method of planting indigo that uses the same equipment as tobacco, Williams says, “so we didn’t have to go out and purchase anything special.”

Stony Creek also created a machine to harvest the crop, and people from the company will come out to the farm and do it themselves. Literally, all these farmers have to do is make sure the indigo stays alive through the season.

The downside: They won’t make as much money as they would selling tobacco. But it’s so much easier, says Sarah Bellos, the founder of Stony Creek.

“We’re not trying to compete on per-acre price basis with tobacco. We are trying to make the margins for the farmer good for growing indigo,” she says.

Her company is four years old and still very much in the startup phase, just trying to prove to investors that the business model works. The natural indigo market barely exists anywhere in the world these days. For the last century, almost all indigo dye has been made synthetically with no farming involved.

But Bellos wants to bring it back. She’s convinced that makers and consumers of high-end jeans will pay more for natural indigo — and at some point, she says, maybe the mass market would too.

“So if farmers can grow them, and we can bring chemical manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., that’s something that’s worth investing in.”

And so far, the company is making it work. A denim manufacturer in North Carolina is buying all of its indigo crop this year. In Tennessee, Stony Creek is still a small operation, with only 10 farmers growing 30 acres of indigo. But Fulton says he knows more people who are already interested.

“I bet I’ve had 50 farmers call,” he says. “It’s been very interesting, no doubt about that.”

So, will indigo replace tobacco? Fulton says, not any time soon. It’s just not lucrative enough.

But he wants the crop to succeed — partly because it would be good for his farm, and partly because it would help his community. Stony Creek will process the indigo dye in a renovated plant down the road, which is creating 50 jobs.

It’s fitting that the renovated plant used to process tobacco.

Salford shisha bar boss fined £2k for allowing smoking in premises

The owner of a shisha bar in Salford has been fined for allowing people to smoke on the premises.

Reflexion Lounge on Salford Quays was found guilty in their absence to two offences of smoking in a smoke free place at Greater Manchester Magistrates Court on Thursday 11 August 2016.

The company was fined £2,000, made to pay costs of £906 and a victim surcharge or £100.

The case began when environmental health officers visited the Reflexion Lounge after receiving a complaint. No owner or director was present so officers left a letter of advice for their attention.

After several more complaints, council officers arranged a meeting in August 2015 with two directors of the business. They were told that people should not smoke on the premises and action needed to be taken. The directors said they advised customers they should not spoke in the premises and pointed to no smoking signs on the walls of the building.

In January an unannounced visit was made, with police, and people were found to be smoking inside the building. Mr Maithm Alsalah was interviewed under caution where he admitted to being in control.

Councillor David Lancaster, Executive Lead Member for Community Safety and Environment at Salford City Council, said: “A business owner should know better than to allow paying customers to smoke in their building as the smoking ban has been in place for more than 10 years.

“Officers went out of their way to meet the directors to give advice, which was ignored, so we had no choice but to prosecute. Any other business that allows smoking will also be prosecuted – it is just not acceptable.”

House Approves Gov’t Plan to Raise Tobacco Excise

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – Chief of Commission IX of the House of Representatives Dede Yusuf said that his Commission will support the government’s plan to increase tobacco excise tariff. However, Dede underlined that revenues from tobacco excise must be channeled to provide medical services.

“If the government increases tobacco excise tariffs, we will agree, but revenues from the excise must be used for medical funds, building hospitals,” Dede said on Tuesday, August 23, 2016.

In addition, Dede also stated that the government must provide protection for tobacco farmers. “Not the cigarette industry,” Dede said. Dede said that even today, many laborers in the cigarette industry are being paid low wages.

Dede asserted that tobacco excise has large contribution in generating state revenue, with a total contribution of Rp 120 o 140 million. Based on available records, the number of active smokers in Indonesia had reached 90 million people, 10 percent of which are children. “This is very concerning,” Dede said.

Dede said that Commission IX is focusing on discussing tobacco control effort, which is considered to be an addictive substance. Moreover, Dede stated that the government needs to protect Indonesian tobacco farmer and Indonesian tobaccos. “In the cigarette industry, they only use 40 percent local tobacco,” Dede said.

Ramen replaces tobacco as ‘most valuable commodity’ in US prisons

Ramen noodles have become a more valuable currency in US prisons than tobacco, a study has found.

Noodle soup: The instant noodles have become a valuable prison currency Shutterstock

Noodle soup: The instant noodles have become a valuable prison currency Shutterstock

The instant noodles are a prized commodity in American jails as spending cuts have conflicted with the rising numbers of inmates.

The study, published by Michael Gibson-Light from the University of Arizona, said the shift in commodities is because of a decline in the quantity and quality of food on offer.

“Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods,” said Mr Gibson-Light.

The noodles are exchanged for clothing, other food, toiletries, laundry services, and can even be used as gambling chips.

Mr Gibson-Light added: “Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles – a cheap, durable food product – as a form of money in the underground economy.

“The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change.”

Mr Gibson-Light interviewed 60 inmates over the course of a year.

He found that prisoners, who spend much of their free time exercising, are not getting enough energy from their food to sustain them.

Inmates had meals cut down from three to two per day on weekends and food served was found to be of extremely low quality – some even dangerous to eat.

The noodles have become so valuable in prison life that unpaid Ramen debts are taken very seriously.

One prisoner said: “I’ve seen fights over ramen. People get killed over soup.”

Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country. Why does a tobacco company want to raise it?

Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California–San Francisco, is a veteran anti-smoking researcher and activist.

In 1994, the Brown & Williamson tobacco company sued the California Board of Regents in an effort to keep Glantz from making public the sensitive company documents he had received from a whistleblower. The university prevailed, and Glantz and his colleagues wrote an influential Journal of the American Medical Association paper based on the documents, which showed that the tobacco industry knew nicotine was addictive and that smoking caused cancer.

Yet even he marvels at the ballot initiative that Missouri voters will consider this fall to raise the tax on major cigarette brands by 60 cents a pack.

The most unusual aspect of the proposal is that it’s being financed largely by a cigarette manufacturer. RAI Services Company has given more than $2.6 million to Raise Your Hand for Kids, the campaign committee leading the push for the new tax. “RAI” stands for Reynolds American Inc., the parent of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., maker of Newport, Camel and Pall Mall.

“I’ve never seen an instance where a cigarette company went to the ballot with a tax before,” Glantz tells The Pitch.

The tactic caught people off-guard. In February, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s editorial board described the tobacco tax initiative as a “sound proposal” and made no mention of R.J. Reynolds’ involvement. Two months later, the paper rescinded its endorsement. But in a sign of how strange this story is, the paper made its about-face for reasons other than the cigarette company’s influence.
Tobacco exemplifies the occasionally baroque nature of Missouri politics. The state’s current tax on cigarettes — 17 cents a pack — is the lowest in the country, even though Missouri is not a major tobacco-growing state.

Jefferson City is famous for its hospitality to the tobacco industry. When lawmakers passed a 4-cents-a-pack increase in 1993, the last time they touched the tax, they restricted local governments from enacting their own taxes on cigarettes. In 1995, the state Senate designated a lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute an official smoking area wherever he roamed within the Capitol. That it may have been a joke seems beside the point.

From 2000 to 2009, 46 states and the District of Columbia increased cigarette taxes, raising the average state cigarette tax by 92 cents a pack, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit group. Many of these tax hikes were passed via ballot initiative. But voters in Missouri rejected new taxes on cigarettes in 2002, 2006 and 2012.

The tobacco industry fought the 2006 ballot initiative, which would have raised the tax by 80 cents a pack. The major manufacturers stayed out of the 2012 campaign because the proposed initiative addressed a facet of the settlement agreement that companies had reached with 46 states in 1998.

Some background: In return for billions of dollars, the states agreed to drop the lawsuits they had filed against the major manufacturers to recover the costs of providing medical care to people suffering from smoking-related illnesses. Missouri receives about $130 million each year under the agreement.

States required cigarette manufacturers that were not part of the settlement to make escrow payments as security for possible future lawsuits against them. These “non-participating manufacturers,” as they’re known, sell mostly discount brands (Echo, Decade, etc.). In addition to setting aside funds for future judgments, the escrow laws protect the big manufacturers from being steeply undercut on price by companies not subject to the settlement agreement.

A loophole in the law allows small manufacturers to claim refunds from the escrow accounts by concentrating their sales in a few states. Most states fixed the loophole.

Missouri — alone among the 46 states party to the settlement agreement — never has.

When he was attorney general, Gov. Jay Nixon pleaded with the Legislature to close Missouri’s loophole. His successor, Chris Koster, has continued to make the appeal. In a letter to lawmakers earlier this year, Koster said the state refunds $80 million each year to the small manufacturers.

The 2012 ballot initiative proposed raising the tax on cigarettes by 73 cents a pack. It also contained language addressing the small-manufacturer loophole. Alas, the measure failed by fewer than 41,000 votes.

R.J. Reynolds was one of the big four (now big two) tobacco companies that settled with the states in 1998. So it’s not a coincidence that the constitutional amendment it’s now bankrolling speaks to that agreement. Among other things, the amendment promoted by Raise Your Hand for Kids imposes an “equity assessment fee” of 67 cents on each pack of cigarettes sold by non-participating manufacturers.
Raise Your Hand for Kids incorporated in late 2014. U.S. Engineering Co., one of the oldest and largest private companies in Kansas City, was an early contributor to the campaign. Tyler Nottberg, the chairman of U.S. Engineering, is a founder of the Alliance for Childhood Education, a group that promotes workforce readiness in Kansas and Missouri.

Most of the money raised by the tax — estimated at about $300 million annually — will go into a fund for early childhood health and education programs. Stressing the Raise Your Hand for Kids campaign’s honest origins, Nottberg says he and others were working to muster support for the initiative for more than a year before the “partnership” with Reynolds American. “The overall concept of a tobacco tax was self-funded by private citizens,” he tells The Pitch.

Not everyone was on board. The executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposed past efforts to raise the cigarette tax, called the proposed amendment “outrageous and unfair.”

Recognizing that increasing the cigarette tax for the first time in more than 20 years may not look outrageous to many Missourians, the convenience-store owners and discount-cigarette makers later came forward with a competing proposal to raise the tax by 23 cents. That money would be spent on state transportation projects.

The 23-cent tax hike was cast as a cynical effort to, as the Post-Dispatch put it in an editorial, “head off a more serious proposal at the pass.” A fuller picture of the more serious proposal emerged later, when Raise Your Hand for Kids began to smell of cigarette smoke. RAI Services Co. gave $1 million to the campaign in late 2015 and has continued to give in the months running up to the election.

The dynamic changed when R.J. Reynolds’ involvement came to light. In March, health groups in Missouri that had supported previous proposals to raise the cigarette tax spoke out against both the R.J. Reynolds–backed amendment and the proposition that convenience stores were working to put on the ballot. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and other groups issued a statement calling the proposals “alarming and deceitful.”

In the same statement, the health groups suggested that both tax proposals had been designed to minimize their impact on tobacco sales. Each proposal raises the tax gradually, lessening the financial shock known to be effective in convincing smokers to try to quit. The American Cancer Society Action Network recommends increasing cigarette taxes by a minimum of $1 per pack to make smokers feel the jolt.

The Raise Your Hand for Kids initiative would raise the tax on discount brands by $1.27. Defending the 60-cent tax on major brands, campaign officials say past ballot initiatives suggest that Missouri voters are cautious about raising the cigarette tax. “The past three attempts that have been made to raise it have in aggregate raised the tobacco tax exactly zero dollars and zero cents,” Nottberg says.
The size and speed of the tax increases are not the only objections to the Raise Your Hand for Kids initiative. The amendment contains several sentences restricting the money from being spent on abortion services, though public funding for abortions is already prohibited in Missouri. The amendment also states that the money can’t be used for embryonic stem-cell research.

The insertion of the stem-cell language dismayed groups promoting scientific research in Missouri. “We were shocked,” says Dena Ladd, the executive director of the Missouri Cures Education Foundation, which worked to pass the 2006 amendment to the state constitution that protects any stem-cell research and therapy in Missouri that is legal under federal law.

Missouri Cures and other scientific groups worry that the proposed amendment could chip away at the protections they’ve secured. Ladd tells The Pitch that her group met with the organizers of Raise Your Hand for Kids and asked them to remove the language about stem cells. They refused.

In March, Missouri Cures announced its opposition the Raise Your Hand for Kids initiative, calling it “North Carolina–based Big Tobacco’s proposed amendment to change Missouri’s Constitution.” Missouri Cures faulted the campaign for allowing “anti-research activists,” which is to say anti-abortion rights groups, to insert the language about stem cells.

The language about abortion and stem cells is what led the Post-Dispatch editorial board to rescind its support of the amendment. Raise Your Hand Kids campaign officials say the language was added to make it clear that that the tax revenue would be spent on children. (The amendment states that between 5 and 10 percent of the money will be spent on smoking cessation and prevention programs.) “It’s not a research initiative,” says James Harris, a campaign spokesman. “It is to help kids birth to [age] 5.”

It was not the first time abortion had become intertwined with tobacco. Missouri Right to Life provided late opposition to the cigarette-tax ballot initiatives in 2002 and 2006, claiming that the money could be used to pay abortion providers. The group has declared its neutrality on the Raise Your Hand for Kids initiative.

Both the 60-cent and the 23-cent tax initiatives will appear on November’s ballot, putting in competition groups whose interests are normally aligned. Glantz, the University of California–San Francisco researcher, says he cannot recall an instance when a tobacco company has squared off against convenience-store and gas-station owners. “The fact that you now have open warfare between these two groups is interesting,” he says.

Both ballot initiatives suggest a realization that Missouri’s cigarette tax was not going to stay at 17 cents much longer. The question that cigarette makers and convenience stores seemed to have asked themselves is: How do we manage the increase? Glantz notes that R.J. Reynolds’ e-cigarette unit supported a tax on the product now in place in North Carolina, the company’s home state. That tax, it should be noted, is small.

“Tobacco companies always play the long game,” Glantz says. “They’re very unusual for American corporations. The standard complaint about big American corporations is they’re always obsessed with this quarter’s bottom line and they don’t really think about the future. The tobacco companies are quite different. They’re very strategic.

They are willing to accept minor compromises and setbacks in the short run in order to protect their long-run interests.”

Iraqi mission staff fined over cigarette smuggling

Two officials working at the Iraqi diplomatic mission in Geneva have received stiff fines for a huge cigarette smuggling scam. Some 600,000 packets of cigarettes were sold on the black market in northwest France.

The two Iraqi permanent mission staff members were fined CHF170,000 ($177,000) and CHF120,000 for the cigarette smuggling ring, which owed CHF2.4 million in unpaid tax.

The Federal Customs Administration on Monday confirmed a SonntagsZeitung report which stated that they had abused privileges normally reserved for diplomats and illegally resold duty-free cigarettes in France over a three-year period.

As smuggling has a seven-year statute of limitations, almost a third of the volume could not be sanctioned. The federal authorities also rejected a request from the Iraqi mission to reduce the fine of one of the employees, who has since been fired.

According to the customs office, the smugglers ordered the cigarettes from a firm in northern Germany which specialises in duty-free deliveries for diplomats, embassies and international organisations. They were then sent to a delivery firm in French-speaking Switzerland.

The goods were subsequently transported to a rented warehouse in Ferney-Voltaire in France, not far from Geneva Airport. From there the cigarettes were sent to the city of Rennes in northwest France, where they were resold on the streets.

The smugglers ordered cigarettes not only on behalf of the Iraqi mission, but also on behalf of the permanent missions of Hong Kong, Bahrein, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Swiss police were tipped off when the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce complained to the Swiss authorities that unknown individuals had ordered cigarettes on their behalf.