A six-month study commissioned by Midwest attorneys' general in four states concluded the recent months of skyrocketing natural gas prices were not caused by the traditional factors of supply and demand alone. The report blames, in part, a huge influx of money into speculative financial markets which has reinforced the upward spiral of prices. The Attorneys' General urged the federal government to assert jurisdiction over unregulated financial trading that could be contributing to the increased price of natural gas. Part of that same group of states Attorneys' General this week released another report. This one was on the historic drop in cigarette sales since the Attorneys' 1998 landmark Master Settlement Agreement against tobacco companies.
According to the Treasury Department's Tobacco Tax Bureau, the 378 billion cigarettes sold in the United States in 2005 represented the lowest sales numbers since 1951 -- despite the fact the U.S. population more than doubled during the same time period.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller: "So we've made enormous progress with tobacco use in America and we were pointing that out. there's obviously a lot to go. But enormous progress has been made and part of the reason for that has happened is because of the MSA settlement and the Legacy Foundation created by the MSA settlement."
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller was one of the chief architects of the MSA. The settlement established a non-profit organization called the American Legacy Foundation to develop programs addressing the health effects of tobacco use. The MSA also prohibited the targeting of youth in cigarette advertising and created a broad array of restrictions on tobacco marketing programs. The payment provisions of the MSA were designed to compensate the states in part for the billions dollars in health care costs associated with treating tobacco-related diseases under state Medicaid programs.
While U.S. cigarette consumption has fallen steadily for decades, the decline essentially stalled during the years immediately prior to the MSA. But the attorneys general claim the decline of more than 21 percent in the eight years following the settlement is unprecedented.
Still, the president of the American Legacy Foundation claims there still is much work to be done.
Dr. Cheryl Healton, President and CEO, American Legacy Foundation: "We know that we're doing a good job because the tobacco industry would prefer that we not be here and that is the best measure of our success. And we also know that in the United States in the past year, we have been delighted to see that we finally reached a tipping point of sorts with only 45 million… only 45 million adult Americans continuing to smoke and more, 46 million being former smokers."
The decline in smokers, coupled with the end of government-supported and controlled tobacco programs, is contributing to a decline in tobacco farmers.
While the number of farms growing tobacco has declined rapidly over the past 50 years, the Agriculture Department reports that from 1997 to 2002, farm numbers declined by a larger percentage than in any other five-year period since 1950.
For those living on "Tobacco Road," it's hard to imagine any crop being as lucrative as the golden leaf. Increasingly though, growers are turning to everything from wine-making to horticulture to make a living.