tocacco plant Native American Tobaccoo flower, leaves, and buds

tocacco Tobacco is an annual or bi-annual growing 1-3 meters tall with large sticky leaves that contain nicotine. Native to the Americas, tobacco has a long history of use as a shamanic inebriant and stimulant. It is extremely popular and well-known for its addictive potential.

tocacco nicotina Nicotiana tabacum

tocacco Nicotiana rustica leaves. Nicotiana rustica leaves have a nicotine content as high as 9%, whereas Nicotiana tabacum (common tobacco) leaves contain about 1 to 3%

tocacco cigar A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the mouth. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Philippines, and the Eastern United States.

tocacco Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the fresh leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as an organic pesticide, and in the form of nicotine tartrate it is used in some medicines. In consumption it may be in the form of cigarettes smoking, snuffing, chewing, dipping tobacco, or snus.

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N.C. Tobacco Farmers Find Friend in State’s New Senator

Along Highway 581 in this rural hamlet, past the Piggly Wiggly and the Country Doctor Museum and the Baptist church and cemetery, is Pender Sharp’s tobacco farm. A sixth-generation farmer who tends to 500 acres, he is part of a dwindling breed whose political influence seems to be waning everywhere - except in eastern North Carolina.

So this month, as lawmakers in Washington castigated tobacco farmers and cigarette makers as contributing to the deaths of half a million Americans each year, Sharp journeyed from Wilson County to Capitol Hill to try to stop another assault on his business. Instead, he and others here in the heart of what was once the world’s largest tobacco market returned to watch Congress deal a historic blow to their industry.

Under legislation that allows the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the $89 billion tobacco industry, Sharp said it is only a matter of time before the agency imposes strict new rules governing his farming and threatening the business that has been in his family since the 1800s.

“Now those yo-yos got oversight over tobacco,” the 57-year-old said in a deep drawl. “Let me tell you my opinion of the FDA. We can go back through time, to apples, strawberries or any number of crops. But last year, there was a salmonella scare, and nearly overnight FDA officials say it’s in tomatoes. Once they make that statement, every tomato farmer in the United States goes broke. Nobody buys tomatoes. Well, a few weeks later, after all the tomato farmers are bankrupt, the FDA says, ‘It’s not in tomatoes. It’s in peppers.’ And the next day every pepper farmer goes broke and their families and their communities suffer.”

To hear Sharp rant is to understand why Kay Hagan, North Carolina’s new senator, joined Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and 15 other senators to become the only Democrat to vote against the tobacco bill. And if any tobacco farmer has Hagan’s ear, it is Sharp.

Last year, when Hagan was a little-known candidate running in an uphill battle to unseat Republican Elizabeth Dole, she campaigned at Sharp’s farm. The fiscally conservative tobacco farmers along the I-95 corridor here make up a constituency that often helps swing statewide elections, and they backed Hagan strongly.

Hagan, 55, is no stranger to tobacco. A former lawyer and bank executive, she spent summers as a child stringing the leaves on her grandparents’ farm. In the state legislature, she represented Greensboro, the headquarters of Lorillard Tobacco, which employs about 2,500 workers there.

To call Hagan merely a defender of the “golden leaf” industry would be an understatement. She is among tobacco’s fiercest backers. In 2005, as co-chairman of the state Senate’s appropriations committee, she helped shave back an increase in the cigarette tax from the 45 cents a pack proposed by the governor to 30 cents. During last year’s campaign, Hagan received $19,200 from the tobacco industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Hagan’s staff declined repeatedly to make her available for an interview for this article, saying she has been on a personal trip the past four days. In a floor speech last week, Hagan said she opposed the tobacco bill because it would hurt major employers in her state, including the Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds tobacco companies.

“While this bill purports to reduce smoking among teenagers and to regulate tobacco products, it goes far beyond these two goals,” she said. “This broad, sweeping legislation will further devastate the economy of North Carolina and the lives of many of my constituents.”

Although the Tar Heel State grows more tobacco than any other, its economic power has been shrinking. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of tobacco farms here decreased by nearly 80 percent, from 12,586 to 2,622, according to the Agriculture Department. The tobacco industry employs about 50,000 people here, delivering an economic impact of $7 billion.

In Raleigh, the capital, and the cities of Charlotte and Durham, the industry has been overtaken by technology, scientific research and banking, and that translates politically. In May, the legislature banned smoking in restaurants and bars. Several of the state’s congressional representatives voted for the tobacco bill, and Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) wants to increase the cigarette tax, moves that analysts said would have been political suicide just a decade ago.

“In a district like mine, the public health concerns have just gotten stronger and stronger and are very, very well articulated,” said Rep. David E. Price (D), who represents the high-tech Research Triangle area and voted for the bill. “I find that even in very conservative suburbs where Republican positions have a lot of resonance, people don’t have any patience with misleading tobacco advertising. These suburban parents, no matter what their political persuasion, have no use for that sort of thing.”

The state’s politics are no longer dominated by tobacco interests.

“The vote on this particular piece of legislation is indicative that the industry has lost a considerable amount of its influence in North Carolina politics,” added Andrew J. Taylor, a political scientist at North Carolina State University.

Nationally, the overwhelming support for the tobacco bill signaled a sea change in social attitudes toward smoking.

“No one outside of Richard Burr and Kay Hagan came to the floor of the Senate and either directly or indirectly defended the tobacco industry,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which led a coalition of more than 1,000 public health and faith organizations that supported the legislation. “That never would’ve happened before.”

Still, here in the holdout farming towns of eastern North Carolina, tobacco reigns.

“Lord, the whole state was built on tobacco,” Roddie Hancock, 56, a cafe owner in Bailey, said as he swatted flies buzzing over the counter where he sold bread pudding and chew bread. Hancock grew up on a small tobacco farm and picked leaves as a child. He said folks here “don’t want the government having anything to do with tobacco.”

To make this point, Sharp, who is president of the North Carolina Agribusiness Council, traveled to Washington two weeks ago. He said he was shocked to hear that people deluged politicians’ offices urging passage of the bill to highlight the health effects of smoking.

“Even in the caves of Afghanistan, they understand that cigarettes can be dangerous,” Sharp said. “Everyone knows that.”

Everyone, including Sharp. He said he quit smoking five years ago — it was too unhealthy and expensive — but still keeps a black ashtray on his desk, next to the adding machine and jar of blister-fried peanuts.

In Washington, Sharp grew frustrated that he was unable to change people’s thinking. “In most congressional offices, the world I live in was certainly not on their mind,” he said.

Worst of all, however, were the insults some lawmakers hurled about his way of life. “It’s hard to do this and get beat up every day in this industry,” Sharp said. “I’m just a good guy who gets up every morning and goes to work on my farm and I employ lots of people on a big payroll and I put in my 80 hours every week and I go home at night really tired and satisfied that I’ve done a good day’s work and I get up the next day and do it again.”

On this day, as black birds chirped in the pine trees above, Sharp strolled through his fields. The tobacco leaves nearly reached his shoulder. In July, they will be cut and cured, and the sweet aroma of tobacco surely will waft across Rock Ridge.

“This, to a trained eye, is a beautiful field of tobacco,” Sharp said. “And regardless of what the smoking bans and the FDA does, it’ll still be a beautiful field of tobacco.”
© Copyright: Washingtonpost

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