Monday, August 31, 2009

Tobacco Maker Names Chairman

British American Tobacco PLC on Wednesday tapped former Bank of Ireland PLC Governor Richard Burrows as its new chairman.

Mr. Burrows will take over from Jan du Plessis, who will become chairman of Rio Tinto PLC, on Nov. 1.

Mr. Burrows resigned from the Bank of Ireland in May, following a troubled fiscal year in which the bank's net profit dropped to €69 million ($97.5 million) from €1.7 billion a year earlier and had to seek €3.5 billion in financial assistance from the Irish government. Mr. Burrows apologized to investors at the time for the loss of shareholder value and the cancellation of the company's dividend.

BAT, meanwhile, demonstrated the resilience of the tobacco industry last month when it posted a 16% rise in first-half net profit to £1.45 billion ($2.4 billion).

Sales of cigarettes are continuing to hold up pretty well in the recession because smokers are reluctant to give up tobacco. Also, any dropoff in volume can be offset with price increases. The company's shares have risen 3.4% in the past year.

Analysts weren't concerned by Mr. Burrows's Bank of Ireland record, concentrating instead on his highly successful career in the fast-moving consumer-goods industry.

He was chief executive of Irish Distillers from 1978 until its takeover by Pernod Ricard SA in 1988. He continued to work within the French drinks company and eventually served as co-chief executive of Pernod Ricard from 2000 to 2005.

The BAT chair is a nonexecutive position, but a higher-profile role than at other similarly sized companies. During his five years in the job, Mr. du Plessis took responsibility for commenting on any political issues -- such as antismoking legislation -- leaving Chief Executive Paul Adams to concentrate on operational matters.

Mr. Burrows will be paid an annual salary of £525,000 and will work a two-day week for BAT. The salary is below the £686,000 Mr. du Plessis received to reflect the short working week, the company said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tobacco Festival should make big comeback next

The South Carolina Tobacco Festival is returning for its 53rd year in Lake City, although the schedule is leaner this year as a result of the economy. The decision to offer a scaled-down series of events for the 2009 festival, which will run from Sept. 18-20, was a conscious and unanimous one by the Greater Lake City Chamber of Commerce’s board.

In spite of the bleak economic scenery surrounding us, Lake City is fortunate to still have a festival, and an abbreviated schedule is a small sacrifice to make as our local businesses fight to stay alive.

One minor rumor was that the Tobacco Festival wasn’t happening at all this year. While it might not be totally identical to the Tobacco Festival we’re familiar with, several events are still planned, starting with the Street Dance the night of Sept. 18, a Friday. The event will feature the Band of Oz and will run from 8 p.m. to midnight.

The biggest changes to the festival’s schedule are the lack of a parade down Main Street as well as entertainment at the town square stage on Saturday, Sept. 19.

But that doesn’t mean you should just stay home that day; get up early and go support a good cause when the Florence Florence County Disabilities Foundation will hold “Lake City’s Largest Yard Sale” at its thrift shop at 219 N. Church St.

Also on Saturday, the festival beauty pageant will take place at the Blanding Street Auditorium, at 125 S. Blanding St.

Finally, on Sunday, the Lake City Country Club will hold a golf tournament.

The chamber of commerce already is making plans for next year’s festival.

“The hope is that we’ll be able to do it even bigger and better than in the past, and we’re even working on that now,” chamber Director Rita Smith said.

When the economy improves, we hope businesses will be able to resume their sponsorships of the festival. A large number of local businesses have been quite generous to the festival, as shown by the lists of contributors in previous years, so we have a good feeling that things will be looking up.

Smith said most people she’s spoken with have been understanding of the decision to scale back the festival this year. Many vendors have called to show interest in selling their goods at this year’s festival have asked Smith to keep them in mind for next year, she said.

With interest already mounting in the 2010 festival, an economic rebound would bring back a Tobacco Festival like those so many of us have regularly attended with our families.

And, as Smith said, it could be even bigger and better than before.

Festivals are good for the morale in towns and cities. They give residents a chance to have fun and take pride in their community.

The people of Lake City and the surrounding areas still have an opportunity to do that as the Tobacco Festival stays alive, and it’s something to be thankful for.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It’s my choice and I choose to smoke

“Quitters never win and I’m no quitter.” “It’s my choice and I choose to continue using nicotine!” The fact is, we lost “choice” the day nicotine took control. But that doesn’t stop the tobacco industry from spending billions on store marketing to build a mighty facade that screams, “smoking is an adult free-choice activity.” Every time we step up to the counter to purchase tobacco the signs and displays hammer our brains with the message that using it is all about flavor, pleasure and aroma. Apparently few tobacco executives “choose” to buy into the lies.

A former Winston Man, David Goerlitz, asked R.J. Reynolds executives, "Don't any of you smoke?" One executive answered, "Are you kidding? We reserve that right for the poor, the young, the black, and the stupid." Once hooked, our only real alternative is the up to 72 hours needed to purge nicotine from our system. Choice? What users have chosen is to avoid withdrawal.

As Joel puts it, it isn’t that we like using nicotine but that we don’t like what happens when we don’t use it. Then there are those of us who claim to smoke knowing full well that it’s killing us. We say we don’t care what happens, that we don't want to get old, that we have to die of something, so why not smoking. Most of us using these “self-destruction” rationalizations do so to hide the fears born of a history of failed attempts, and of a false belief that we’re somehow different than others, and that we’ll never be able to stop using. Try to find anyone who isn't shocked when cancer, emphysema, heart attack or stroke does occur. As Joel writes, "no one ever called me enthusiastically proclaiming, 'It worked, it's killing me!' On the contrary, they were normally upset, scared and depressed."

Choice? Once out from under our dependency’s control then free choice is restored. But just one puff, dip or chew and our freedom and autonomy will again be lost, as our brain is soon begging for more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ohio dealt decisive blow in tobacco funds dispute

The Strickland administration will mount an appeal to a Tuesday court ruling that would prevent the state from using $230 million in smoking prevention funding to help pay for home-care services under Ohio’s latest budget.

Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge David Fais’ decision bars the state from touching $230 million from the dissolved Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation. The battle over the money began in April 2008, when Gov. Ted Strickland outlined plans to use tobacco foundation money to partly finance a $1.57 billion jobs stimulus plan in the state.

With the money frozen while the legal fight played out, the state shifted the intended use of the cash to optional Medicaid services, a children’s Medicaid expansion and cancer screenings, said Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst.

In the ruling, Fais wrote that two pieces of legislation backing a liquidation of the foundation and transfer of the money are unenforceable because they “clearly violate” tenets of the state Constitution. Assets in the foundation’s endowment fund are now in the state Treasury’s custody, but they’re to be used solely for tobacco prevention programs mounted by public or private agencies.

Wurst said Strickland was disappointed by the ruling and the time it took to reach a decision. The governor has asked state Attorney General Richard Cordray to speed an appeal of Fais’ ruling “to ensure these vital services continue for Ohioans.”

“Today’s ruling will delay or jeopardize the ability of these health-care services to continue to serve the people of Ohio,” Wurst said.

Fais reiterated a position he held when issuing an injunction on use of the money last February: The state had a reasonable alternative to raiding the tobacco fund for the jobs stimulus plan by issuing bonds instead.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tough Summer for Tobacco Crop

It's a sight you'll find up and down the Connecticut River Valley, field after field abandoned or already harrowed.

"It's like a ghost town," said Allan Zuchowski. "It's like a spaceship came and took all the farmers away."

It's not the farmers that are gone, but instead their tobacco crops, a result of a very cold and wet summer.

Zuchowski, a farmer in Hadley, has lost seven acres worth.

"It pays the bills. It replaces the equipment. It keeps up the buildings," he said.

Wally Czajkowski, another farmer in town, has lost 30 acres.

"It's just a big hole in the middle of our season," he said.

It's leaving a big hole in Czajkowski's wallet. His tobacco crop makes up a third of his income.

Both farmers say it's a combination of factors that have led to the devastating loss. Four diseases attacked the crops early in the season, and the cold and wet weather made it too difficult for the plants to fight them off.

One virus many tobacco farmers are dealing with leaves spots all over each leaf. When cured, the spots become holes, and the leaf becomes useless.

"Tobacco is a job that requires many hands and many hours and those hands are idle now," said Zuchowski.

"There's going to be a lot of unemployed farm workers this fall," said Czajkowski.

Both Zuchowski and Czajkowski are now paying close attention to their other crops. They must now rely on those to make up for the loss of income.

But both say they're not giving up on tobacco.

"We'll just try again next year," said Czajkowski.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Farm Labor Supply Surprising Tobacco Growers

About the time the economy went in the dumper in 2001 folks started saying that the recession would improve the farm labor supply. But a fellow at an agricultural outlook seminar in Gainesville, Fla., said the supply of field laborers was just fine.

"We have a great system," he said. "It's called Greyhound. It crosses the border, picks up workers and when the job's done, it takes them back home."

No self-respecting American who could get a check in the mailbox would go sweat in a field, the speaker said. At the time, he was accurate.

Either times have changed and some of those folks who could get a check prefer to earn an honest's days wages - as my parents and grandparents taught - or, well, I don't think there is an or. You see, those checks still are available to just about everyone who asks for one and Congress keeps extending unemployment eligibility.

But farmers are reporting Americans coming to see about working in their fields. Laborer jobs. Earlier today Ray Tucker couldn't help grinning when he said an American was among the fellows harvesting the tobacco on his Kentucky farm. And Jay sounded a little proud when he said the American was keeping up with the Mexicans who came here through the H2A program.