The Farmers and the Nannies Can Be Friends


Today's New York Times describes how the alliance between tobacco growers and cigarette manufacturers, an important element in resistance to anti-smoking measures, is falling apart. For years the cigarette companies worked hard to maintain this alliance, which gave them crucial support in tobacco-growing states and congressional districts. They even backed the federal government's tobacco quota program, which keeps the crop's price artificially high, enhancing farmers' profits at the expense of cigarette makers.

Anti-smoking activists initially opposed the price support system, reasoning that anything Big Tobacco favored must be bad. But eventually they got hip to the laws of supply and demand, realizing that higher prices tend to discourage consumption. As one activist tells the Times:

We became educated….We learned that getting rid of the tobacco program didn't stop one cigarette from being smoked. It just opened it up to lower prices, which could mean the opposite….We were sold on the health benefit of quotas and price supports. So we dropped our opposition to the program and then began defending it.

But now the activists have done another about-face, supporting a buyout of tobacco quotas–a $15 billion to $20 billion windfall for farmers–and elimination of the price support program. They seem to have calculated that any reduction in tobacco prices will be outweighed by the value of driving a wedge between cigarette makers and farmers, already alienated by the industry's increasing use of foreign tobacco and now grateful to their new friends in the anti-smoking movement.