On Tuesday, the European Parliament is expected to vote on proposed tobacco rules that would crack down on the use of additives. Kentucky growers say the new rules would result in a de facto ban on burley because it’s routinely mixed with other flavorings and ingredients to alter the taste.
“The flavor of that cigarette is all contingent not only on the tobacco, but what they add to it,” said Shell, a fourth-generation tobacco farmer and a first-term Republican in the Kentucky House of Representatives. “So if Marlboro doesn’t taste like Marlboro anymore, then people might not buy them to smoke. And if people don’t buy cigarettes, then the tobacco companies don’t need tobacco – and that means I can’t feed my family.”
If the rules are approved, growers say, burley could get knocked out of one of the world’s largest and most lucrative tobacco markets.
U.S. burley growers shipped more than $110 million worth of their tobacco to European countries in 2011. Kentucky’s 4,500 growers, who rank first in the nation in burley production, currently ship 43 percent of their crop to Europe.