"THE HEART OF THE MATTER"
a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)


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Week: 591.6a 

Guests: Tobacco farmers Joe Vallandingham & Steve Walters, Clement, MD... warehouseman Buddy Bowling, Hughesville, MD 

Topic: Tobacco under siege 

Reporter: Aaron Cohen 

Host/Producer: Steve Girard 

NEMA: The latest blow to the tobacco companies came in Florida. In a West Palm Beach courtroom, the industry agreed to pay an 11.3 billion dollar settlement to reimburse Florida’s Medicaid expenses due to smoking related injuries. Children’s access to cigarettes would be curtailed and the tobacco industry must fund anti-smoking campaigns. This result, coupled with the national settlement and a hefty tax increase imposed by Congress, has left the industry reeling. But the men and women who grow tobacco for a living remain loyal to their crop, but highly skeptical of everyone involved in the debate. Aaron Cohen visited their farms in Southern Maryland in this Health on the Hill....  

COHEN: Joe Vallandingham’s farm in Clement, Maryland is quiet today...inclement weather, three inches of rain, meant tobacco was not being cut...just too wet for slogging around through fields of saturated chest-high tobacco plants. Like everybody in the tobacco business south of Washington and West of the Chesapeake Bay, Vallandingham grows Type 32, that is air-cured in barns before the leaf is sold auction every march. While the state of Florida revels in its courtroom victory, Vallandingham sums up what the tobacco farmers think about being caught up in the crossfire of the tobacco wars...  

VALLANDINGHAM: I think we got left out in the cold, they just ignore the tobacco farmers down here in Southern Maryland. Here it is...if you don’t like it, we’re going to take it away from you. They gonna punish you. Why punish me...I’m not causing these teenagers to smoke. They gonna do what they want to do anyhow. Schools can’t correct them, how’s a tobacco farmer gonna correct them.  

COHEN: Vallandingham’s sentiments were echoed all over Southern Maryland, where tobacco is grown and then sold for use in many European brands... In Hughesville, Steve Walters could be found 16 feet above the earth, hanging leaves upside down in one of his barns, where they’ll redden, and with a bit of luck, bring a good price next spring. He too feels like his way of life is being threatened...  

WALTERS: I would say that would be very fair to say...under siege. I don’t know, we’re under attack, and we’re growing a legal product...and we can’t see...what’s the problem?  

COHEN: The problem is modern science has determined that cigarettes cause cancer, and the tobacco industry has just recently admitted that science might be right...while some farmers are admittedly skeptical of the industry’s claims, and the government’s involvement...Joe Vallandingham steadfastly denies that smoking will do you any harm...  

VALLANDINGHAM: Do you know anybody whose home was broke up over cigarettes? I bet you can’t tell me....and neither can Governor Glendening. But there’s been a lot of homes broke up over gambling. When you work a night job, making 400 dollars a week, and you come home and your wife asks you where the money is, and he says he gambled it away, you know that’s not going to sit too good. And if he’s smoking, he can smoke only so much.  

COHEN: While Joe Vallandingham and Steve Walters are harvesting their Type 32 tobacco, Buddy Bowling is drumming up business. He runs the Hughesville Tobacco Warehouse, where farmers from all over Southern Maryland go to have their crop auctioned to Brown and Williamson or Phillip Morris. At 2 dollars a pound last year, and with a steady clientele, Bowling says the tobacco business is booming...  

BOWLING: Not since I’ve been in the tobacco business...price wise, that was the best sale year for farmers that I’ve ever seen. 

COHEN: But prosperity has not brought peace...the settlements and tax increases, the billboard and vending machine bans, and the smokers left, like lepers, to light up on sidewalks...is wearing on Bowling...  

BOWLING: It’s gotten to be old with us, and we’re tired of it, and I think we’re being unjustly....harassed.  

COHEN: But farmers aren’t harassed to the point where they’ll substitute watermelon or corn for tobacco. Tobacco has a loyal, if not addicted customer base... ‘habit-forming’ is as much as the farmers will admit to...where produce is subject to the whims of not only the marketplace, but Mother Nature. Here’s Joe Vallandingham...  

VALLANDINGHAM: The tomatoes has gotten terrible in Southern Maryland. With vegetables, something is ripe today and it’s gone tomorrow. Tobacco is nothing but a weed. It’s half dead today, and if it rains three inches tonight, tomorrow morning...a couple days...it’ll be up around your shoulders.  

COHEN: Vallandingham and Steve Walters and the rest along Maryland’s tobacco road are defiantly quick to point out that the weed has been grown around here since well before there was a United States...and will - as long as there are people who enjoy lighting up. For Health on the Hill, I’m Aaron Cohen in Washington.  

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