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How Much Pesticide Is In That Cigarette?

I had a fascinating discussion with an ex-tobacco farming expert. He’s an expert because he used to grow tobacco, but not anymore. If you’re a smoker, or user of any tobacco leaf product, what he said should shock you. I take that back — you’re a smoker: “shocked” is never going to happen to you.

What did he say that was so striking? I’m not a farmer, so it became a little difficult to understand all the science behind the conversation. Needless to say, he said they used to farm vegetables and tobacco side by side. He said something about potato farming being timed with tobacco crops, and when the potato market went south he got out of the tobacco farming business for good and went with just vegetables. Now he’s a full-time vegetable farmer.

While he was a tobacco farmer, how did he run his tobacco farm? Like I said, he grew vegetables and tobacco side-by-side. He used different pesticides for the vegetables than he did for the tobacco farming. He farmed based on the concept that people who ate vegetables were looking for a healthy food. So he used pesticides in their lowest recommended concentration and applied them at the longest recommended time frame between applications and used the safest formulations available. None of his chemicals carried the skull-and-crossbones warning. And what about the tobacco farming?

His (nearly) exact words were:

Everybody knows that smoking is bad for you. Every doctor will tell you that. So we didn’t care about the health concerns of pesticides because everybody already knew smoking was bad for you. Our main focus was to maximize quality and tonnage of the tobacco leaf.

What did that mean to the tobacco farming? It meant he farmed with an entirely different mindset. Because he felt everyone using his product already knew it was going to kill them, he applied the highest concentration of pesticide allowed by law and applied them at the most frequent allowable, not least frequently recommended, duration of  time. And every pesticide carried the dreaded skull-and-crossbones danger, none of which existed on the pesticide control compounds for the fruits and vegetables. And he said every tobacco farmer farmed the tobacco leaf based on these principles. The goal was to maximize quality and tonnage of the tobacco leaf, and you did that with highly-aggressive pest control strategies.

There you have it, folks. That’s the mindset of an ex-tobacco farmer insider turned vegetable farmer heard straight from the ears of Happy Hospitalist. It’s an inside look at how the industry operates. It’s sad, really. All these tobacco farmers know that you know that tobacco kills. It appears they use that to their advantage, to justify using the most concentrated doses of deadly chemicals to maximize product for profit. They are out to make a legal living growing a product that prematurely kills half the people who use it. But they just grow it. “They don’t make anyone smoke it,” said the poppy grower to the heroin addict.

If people stopped smoking, tobacco farmers would stop growing. It’s that simple. Ban by ban, tax by tax, hopefully we can put all of those tobacco farmers out of business and force them to flood the market with cheap tomatoes. Even a tobacco farmer has to eat.

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

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