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Canadian measure worries burley officials

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By Walt Reichert

A bill proposed in the Canadian Parliament may have the effect of keeping cigarettes made with burley tobacco out of the country, and that's riling members of the state's Congressional officials.

Canadian Bill C-32 would ban any flavorings in cigarettes marketed in Canada. It is apparently aimed at keeping candy-flavored cigarettes off the market.

But officials say the bill would eliminate the sales of cigarettes made with both flue-cured and burley because those products contain a small amount of flavoring designed to reduce the bitterness of the tobacco. The bill would not affect the sales of so-called Virginia style cigarettes, which are made with only one type of tobacco.

Roger Quarles, president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative, said the state's Congressional delegation as well as the Coop, has contacted Canadian government officials with their concerns about the measure.

“Their intent was to eliminate candy-flavored cigarettes,” Quarles said. “But this would eliminate all cigarettes made with burley tobacco. Marlboro, Winston and other brands you might be familiar with all have a very tiny percentage of flavoring to take the sting out of the tobacco.”

Quarles said he suspects the Canadian measure is an “attempt or ploy” to eliminate tobacco consumption in the country. Cigarettes made with burley or flue-cured tobacco account for about 20 to 25 percent of the cigarette market in Canada, Quarles said.

“That's still a big market for our burley,” he said.

Congressman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., wrote a letter to Canada's Minister of International Trade, Stock Day, protesting the measure.

“It would deny my tobacco farmers any opportunity to sell their crops (which are primarily burley) to any company for use in Canada,” Whitfield's letter said. “This bill could in fact violate several trade agreements including the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement and NAFTA.”

Dean Wallace, executive director of the Council for Burley Tobacco, said his organization has also contacted the Canadian government, but is not sure what effect the lobbying against C-32 will have.

“We’ve talked to them about how it violates trade agreements, but whether we can get it stopped or not, we don’t know,” Wallace said.

Quarles said he has so far heard of no response from the Canadian government to burley growers concerns.

Tobacco growers and officials are also casting a wary eye toward Washington following President Barack Obama’s signing Monday of a bill allowing FDA regulation of tobacco. The bill lets the FDA set regulations on the ingredients in cigarettes as well as the marketing of tobacco products.