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Farmers to Kaine: Butt out
Tobacco growers oppose tax hike
This is a bale of burley tobacco that weighs 600 pounds. It will make more than 360,000 cigarettes and generate more than $39,096 in excise taxes, said Darrell Jackson, one of four Henry County tobacco farmers. When Jackson sells this bale next week, he expects it to bring him about $1,000.
If Gov. Tim Kaine can't take the smoke, he needs to get out of Virginia, according to some Henry County tobacco farmers.
"I wish Tim Kaine would go on and take the Democratic National Committee chair full time. That would get him out of Virginia," said Darrell Jackson, one of four Henry County tobacco growers.
Kaine recently accepted the DNC position but said he will finish out his term as governor.
The quicker Kaine ends his term as governor, the better, according to Jackson.
"Tim Kaine is the most anti-tobacco governor Virginia has ever seen," Jackson said, referring to the governor's proposal to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes to 60 cents from 30 cents as well as his efforts to ban smoking in restaurants.
Neither proposal sits well with Jackson, who said tobacco growers already contend with a myriad of other problems, such as the whims of Mother Nature, which recently cost one farmer part of his crop, and tobacco-munching deer.
Danny Robertson, also a county tobacco grower, said last year was the first in 36 years that a frost kept him from meeting his tobacco quota.
As bad as that was, Kaine's proposals are worse because both are "bad for domestic consumption," Robertson said.
The proposals also do not sit well with Keith Jackson, a grower who decided to produce "organic tobacco" last year. He is the first such producer in Henry County and one of only 40 in the United States.
Growing organic tobacco is more labor intensive and free of synthetic chemicals, said Keith Jackson, who is a cousin of Darrell Jackson.
The way Keith Jackson sees it, both of Kaine's proposals single out tobacco producers and users.
Tobacco growers have worked with local and state legislators to make headway against the deer problem and other concerns.
With Virginia's economy declining and no jobs on the horizon, Darrell Jackson said he is surprised tobacco ranks so high on Kaine's list of priorities.
Fewer than 20 percent of Virginians now smoke, Darrell Jackson said, but much of the United States, and especially Virginia, has a rich tobacco heritage. "From the founding of Jamestown, tobacco has kept this nation afloat," he said, pointing out that tobacco use is legal.
While he understands the state is facing tough economic times, Darrell Jackson said raising tax on cigarettes by 30 cents is not a viable way to raise revenue because "it's not going to be enough" to eliminate the estimated $3 billion shortfall, due in part to the lower number of smokers and lower taxes in other areas.
With the proposed tax hike, Darrell Jackson said "common sense" would dictate that smokers will patronize businesses just over the North Carolina line or they will quit smoking.
Either way, Virginia will lose money, not make it, Jackson predicted.
When that becomes apparent, "is the state going to come back and hit tobacco again? Does Tim Kaine think he can just keep coming back" and enacting tax increases for smokers, Jackson asked.
Since 1999, there has been a 93.1 percent excise tax increase on cigarettes, he said, adding that the tax has risen 88 times since 2000.
Each pound of farm weight tobacco - which is enough to make between 500 and 1,000 cigarettes - produces $65.16 in tax revenue, Jackson said, quoting a release from Philip Morris USA that includes figures from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
That total includes $10.77 in federal excise tax, an average of $30.92 in state excise taxes, 83 cents in local taxes, $6.35 in sales tax and $16.29 toward the cost of the 1998 tobacco settlement that cost domestic tobacco companies between $236 billion and $240 billion, Jackson said.
That means a single 600-pound farm weight bale of tobacco will produce nearly $40,000 in taxes, he said.
Most Virginia farmers produce an average of 2,500 pounds per acre, Jackson said. That means each acre already generates excise taxes of about $162,900.
Henry County's four tobacco farmers grow 110-115 acres of the leaf.
A self-described Independent, Jackson said he has supported Democrats such as state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner as well as others, so his disagreements with Kaine's proposals are not related to party affiliation.
He also does not smoke. While Jackson said he understands that smoking is not a healthy habit, "there are a whole lot of other things we consume that are detrimental to our health.
"It's not healthy to eat a ham biscuit every morning for breakfast, but I do it and probably will" until he dies, Jackson said. He also eats red meat - another unhealthy habit.
Other people also have unhealthy habits, but Jackson said Kaine seems to be singling out smokers, especially after hearing the proposed tax referred to as a "sin tax."�
"What I'd really like to know is how much "˜sin-tax' is there on a can of beer? It's none, but yet alcohol kills more of our teenagers" through drinking and driving than does tobacco use, Jackson said, adding that both alcohol and tobacco are legal products.
On Kaine's proposal to ban smoking in restaurants, tobacco farmers suggest that Kaine butt out.
"I would hate to be a smoker" who could not light up after a meal in a restaurant, Jackson said.
"I think that decision should be left up to restaurant owners, not mandated by the state," he said. If restaurants decide they do not want to allow smoking, "that's fine," Jackson said, but the state does not need to tell that business sector what to do.
Restaurant employees not wanting to be exposed to second-hand smoke while working could find jobs in non-smoking establishments, Jackson suggested.
The same holds true for patrons, according to Keith Jackson, who suggested if non-smokers prefer a non-smoking environment, "don't frequent those places" that allow it.
"It should be left up to each restaurant to decide who they want to cater to," Keith Jackson said. "Smokers, non-smokers or both."�