U.S. Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) has introduced a congressional buyout bill in an attempt to help the nation's ailing tobacco farmers.

The bill, which is being introduced in the House by Reps. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), seeks to give farmers and holders of tobacco quotas $8 for each pound of tobacco they produce and $4 per pound for those who are transitioning from tobacco. The bill also would institute a new system of licensing and provide economic development assistance to communities dependent on tobacco, although no details on this part of the plan have been released.

“Our farmers are in trouble, and I want to provide them with a tobacco quota buyout to give them a better future,” says Cleland. “This approach is fair and includes badly needed assistance for the communities that depend on tobacco farming as well.”

Georgia ranks fifth nationally in tobacco production, behind North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina with a crop estimated at $120 million. Cleland's plan comes three months after a North Carolina congressman introduced legislation to end tobacco farming subsidies.

The push for reform comes amid growing public opposition to federal farming subsidies for tobacco and changes in other crop support programs such as peanut quotas.

A similar bill was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.). McIntyre's bill seeks to replace federal subsidies with a one-time buyout to farmers who own tobacco quota. Like the quota owners in Cleland's bill, they would be paid $8 for each pound of quota they hold. This would be a one-time payment spread over a five-year period.

For example, a farmer with 800,000 pounds of quota would get five yearly payments of $160,000. Farmers who don't own but rent their quotas also would get a one-time buyout of $4 per pound spread over five years.

McIntyre's bill would give the Food and Drug Administration regulatory oversight in the production, manufacturing and sale of tobacco. The FDA would assess a user fee on cigarette manufacturers to pay for the buyout plan, which is estimated to cost $15 billion.

McIntyre's bill got the backing of several groups, including the Tobacco Growers Association of Georgia and the American Cancer Society, which put out a joint statement with the American Heart Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“The support of leading public health organizations for this legislation is the type of historic partnership between the public health community and the tobacco-growing community that will be critical to accomplishing out mutual goals of assisting tobacco farmers and their communities while promoting the public health.”