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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Six Nations tobacco company takes on United States

A Six Nations tobacco company is taking on the United States in a legal action that challenges big tobacco and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Grand River Enterprises — Six Nations’ largest manufacturer, making millions of cigarettes a day — has sunk almost $4 million into fighting the case, which is being decided by a free trade tribunal.

“It’s very much a David and Goliath situation,” says New York State lawyer Leonard Violi, who represents GRE. “Except, in this case, Goliath not only has his private constituency, he has the government forces behind him as well. So, it’s not one Goliath, it’s two.”

GRE may be the David but it’s got the money for the fight. Business has skyrocketed over the last decade, making the company millions in profits every year.

Some estimate GRE has sold $1 billion in tobacco over the last 10 years.

Unlike some of the small illegal manufacturers for which native reserves are known, GRE pays excise tax to the federal government — an estimated $400 million.

The argument in the U.S. goes back to a 1998 master settlement agreement (MSA) where 46 states and six U.S. territories signed with the four tobacco giants — Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown and Williamson Tobacco and Lorillard Tobacco Company.

As part of that agreement, the “majors” agreed to pay $206 billion over 25 years and $9 billion thereafter to a fund to cover what the U.S. government had to pay in Medicaid for smoking-related illnesses.

But the big companies wouldn’t sign unless the monetary obligation was extended, by legislation, to all other competitors selling cigarettes in the U.S., even though the smaller businesses hadn’t been — and might never be — sued for wrongdoing.

That was a bit of tricky business designed to rid the marketplace of the little competitors, said lawyer Violi. Any company that didn’t sign didn’t get a legal market share and was in danger of being considered contraband.

“(The agreement) is supposed to be for the benefit of the consumers, but not one dollar of MSA payments is earmarked for health care,” Violi says.

“Instead the consumers have been gouged because cigarette prices have gone up 300% since the MSA was implemented.”

Violi says the system was set up to protect big tobacco. While other companies were notified of the agreement and given 90 days to sign on, GRE didn’t get the same privilege.

At first GRE’s statement of claim asked for $310-$664 million in damages for harm and lost income but that range was adjusted to $100-$260 million.

In return, the U.S. government argues that it should win the decision and have GRE pay $2.8 million in court costs.

Merlyn Fernandes, a lawyer with Heydary Samuel Professional Corp. in Mississauga, has no connection with the case but has a background in national and international tax law.

She says the case is intriguing because, if GRE wins, it will be a ruling that will be studied for years.

“Very few NAFTA cases get to this stage,” Fernandes said. “It costs a lot to take things to arbitration and it takes a lot of patience. There’s years of waiting on both sides and a lot of pressure.”

With state and federal governments involved, the case has a lot of layers, adds Fernandes.

“They’re arguing that certain tobacco companies in the U.S. receive special favour under the settlement agreements which has not been extended to them. And NAFTA is about everyone being treated equally.”

That means, she adds, that if GRE is able to win at arbitration, the U.S. and state governments may have to go back and revise the escrow statues and the overall settlement agreement as well.

“Big tobacco will be rooting for the U.S. to win. They don’t want to go back to the table.”

At the two-week hearing in February, representatives of Mexico’s NAFTA office were present along with officials from Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs.

To help make their case, GRE flew Six Nations’ Chief Coun. Bill Montour to the hearing in Washington, D.C.

“The court wanted to hear what GRE means to Six Nations,” explained Montour last week.

“I told them there are 400 direct jobs but 4,500 other jobs generated by the cigarette industry.”

Montour said tobacco has created a business on the reserve that supports multiple families who would otherwise be on welfare.

“When they first started, people came to work in old cars and not very well dressed. Now you see people with a new outlook, with lots of money in their pockets and walking out in new clothes with their heads held high.”

GRE was just the beginning, said Montour.

Other businesses have been attracted to the reserve, like Mohawk Rock, which ships stone for houses across North America.

“We’ve now got a race track here that’s the Thunderdome of Ohsweken and you see 10,000 people here for special weekends, a state-of-the-art music studio and the Pro-Fit Athletic Club, which is second to none.

“We’ve got 15 to 20 restaurants that have got a start through investment in the cigarette industry and they employ a lot of people. I think there’s a bright future for Six Nations.”

Posted By SUSAN GAMBLE, Simcoereformer

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