When a tobacco buyout arrives, it will be riding on the train of FDA regulation, being pulled by the support of health advocates, speakers seemed to be saying at the annual meeting of the Flue-Cured Stabilization Cooperative.

“If there is a tobacco buyout this year, it will be the caboose and not the train,” David Rouser, top ag aide for U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, told the crowd of tobacco industry folks in Raleigh.

“With the Senate's current makeup, FDA regulation is the only vehicle that can carry a quota buyout,” Rouser says. “There are more senators interested in FDA regulation than a buyout.”

Health advocates are in favor of a quota buyout to insure production controls and a price safety net. “Plain and simple, they don't want cheap tobacco being grown all over the country because it would entice more young people to smoke,” says Bruce Flye, Stabilization president, and a grower in Nash County, N.C.

Such an arrangement would likely require growers to have licenses to produce tobacco. “A license arrangement appeals to health advocates,” says Andy Shepherd, who represents Virginia on the Co-op board. “Production could be tracked and controlled. With an unrestricted production, bootlegging of cigarettes would be prevalent.

“In order to get the ‘buyout’ train moving, we may have to give on the way tobacco is grown,” Shepherd says.

“There will be no buyout without the support of health advocates,” Flye believes. Based on actions of the last five or six years, Flye has confidence that health advocates can help make a quota buyout reality. “There have been no attacks on the tobacco program in five or six years and the health advocates helped us three years ago when we almost lost crop insurance on tobacco.

“We have to have our priorities straight,” Flye says. For Flye, the Number One priority is commonly referred to as $8 and $4. The Number Two priority is production controls. The Number Three priority is the need for a safety net on tobacco.

“We all want the $8 and $4, but if we want a buyout we're going to have to have the support of the health advocates,” Flye says.

“We feel that President's Commission Report is the best plan to pass Congress,” Flye says.