US tobacco growers fume over price threat: Rumours that a tax hike on cigarettes will fund health reforms have brought fear and fury to North Carolina, writes David Usborne in Bunn

UNDER THE fuzzy blue sky of early summer, the landscape of grand oaks, white clapperboard homes and neatly cultivated fields looks at peace. This is North Carolina's tobacco-growing country, however, and the mood in the fields, in spite of the sunshine, is not one of contentment but of rebellion.

The object of the farmers' ire is a proposal from Washington that may not yet be formally on the table but which everyone knows is coming: a mighty increase in federal taxation on cigarettes to help finance the health care reforms expected to be unveiled by Hillary Clinton next month.

The extent of the likely increase is, indeed, daunting. If the rumours emanating from Mrs Clinton's White House office are true, the federal tax may go up by as much as dollars 2 ( pounds 1.25) a pack. With the tax now set at only 24 cents, that would mean doubling the cost of cigarettes to smokers overnight. And, according to the tobacco industry, it could lead to the loss of 750,000 jobs across the tobacco-growing belt, with 87,000 at risk in this state alone.

'This kind of tax amounts to what the British did to the Americans,' says John Vollmer, a grower in the tiny community of Bunn, north-east of Raleigh, the state capital. He enjoys pointing out the historical parallels with the resentment sown in the 18th century by excises imposed by the Crown on tobacco exports to England. 'And that led to revolution]'

Revolution may not be an option today, but the tobacco industry means to make its grievances known. Yesterday fleets of buses converged on Washington bearing growers from North Carolina as well as workers from the R J Reynolds cigarette factory in Winston Salem to protest against the threatened tax. Cigarette manufacturers have identified about 500,000 'confirmed' smokers and urged them directly to voice their opposition to Congress.

Mr Vollmer, who runs his 300-acre farm with his wife, Betty, calculates that if the dollars 2 tax goes through he will have to cut his tobacco cultivation by half. At that level he may no longer be viable. Although he farms 300 acres, a strict quota system means only 70 acres are currently put down to tobacco. But that small acreage provides 90 per cent of his income.

He went to Washington two months ago, when word of the tax was first out, to lobby members of Congress for sympathy. After the first meeting, he now relates, he found himself jotting a single thought on his note-pad: 'Get a job'. He remembers: 'I really felt depressed and quite defeated. Quite frankly, we hadn't expected the congressmen to seem so frightened. It was as if they had no confidence at all that they could stop this thing'.

Working against Mr Vollmer and the tobacco industry as a whole is a compelling logic behind the tax-increase proposal: that the funding of a new health-care system should be provided in large part by a segment of the population that itself puts a disproportionate burden on the hospitals through smoking-related illnesses. Increasing the excise would not just generate cash but perhaps depress the numbers of smokers as well. Even with reduced demand for cigarettes, a dollars 2 increase would generate an extra dollars 30bn annually.

And, at a time when Mrs Clinton has banned smoking in the White House and her husband has pledged to spend an extra dollars 10m on anti-smoking campaigns, it is a logic that apparently is in tune with popular sentiment. A Gallup survey released this week, showed 73 per cent of Americans favouring higher taxes on tobacco, with 67 per cent in favour of the dollars 2 increase.

In the settlement of Battleboro, about 30 miles east of the Vollmer farm, Bruce Flye, a fellow grower, reflects on what a dollars 2 increase would do to the community. With much of the land he farms leased from small owners, he reckons that 28 people would suffer at once if a cut in demand reduced his quota and therefore his viability. 'I would hate to lose my income but I have more feeling for all these other people that would be hurt,' he explains. 'I would really hate to see the rug pulled out from under them'.

Similar fears are voiced by Bob Marriott, owner of Battleboro's only hardware and agricultural supply store, who points to the likely knock-on effect on businesses that supply the tobacco industry. 'It would be the ruin of the whole community. The way the farmers go is the way we go.'

(Map omitted)

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker