Q&A: Is gov still subsidizing tobacco growers?

Q. With the new measures the government is taking to stop teenagers from smoking, is the government is still subsidizing tobacco growers?

— Barbara Turner, Newnan

A. After subsidizing the tobacco industry since the Great Depression, the federal government ended financial support in 2004, when the Equitable Tobacco Reform Act offered $10.1 billion in buyouts to encourage tobacco farmers to switch crops. But the results have been surprising.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farms cultivating tobacco plunged to between 2,500 to 3,000 in 2008 from 26,000 in 2004. But after a sharp downturn in production — 27 percent down in 2005 alone — those fewer farms bounced back in 2008 to grow 805 tons of tobacco without subsidy, compared to 882 subsidized tons in 2004.

Bottom line: Tobacco is a cash crop again without government help. Tobacco farming in Pennsylvania doubled in three years.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which President Barack Obama signed Monday, regulates the advertising, marketing and manufacturing of tobacco products, with an eye on the flavoring and cartoon ads aimed at teens.

It is estimated that each day, 1,000 people younger than 18 become regular smokers, Obama said berfore signing the bill, adding tobacco use is linked to an estimated 400,000 deaths annually, in addition to $100 billion in health care costs.

AJC staff produced this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get an answer. Call 404-222-2002 or e-mail l.mayeux@comcast.net (include name and city).