Unbelievable as it seems, an international health organization appears intent on taking action that could conceivably eliminate the use of burley tobacco in cigarettes overseas…and perhaps eventually in the United States.

The new proposal, which is not specifically a ban on burley in cigarettes, but is instead a ban on additives, will be considered at a meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in mid-November in Uruguay. If it is adopted there or later, the 170 or so participating nations will be expected to enact it.

That would include most of the world and could be very bad news for burley growers here, since nearly 75 percent of the burley produced in this country each year is exported.

There is one bright side: Such a ban would notbe enforced in the U.S., because this country does not participate in the WHO tobacco convention. But that might well only buy burley growers some time: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be expected to take the cue to try to pass a similar ban, said Roger Quarles from Georgetown, Ky., a burley grower and president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative in Lexington, Ky.

“The World Health Organization is in a war against burley growers,” said Quarles. “If this thing comes to pass, it would be illegal to sell cigarettes that have any ingredient other than tobacco. That is what we are fearful of."

How could a ban on additives be a de facto ban on burley? Richie Farmer, commissioner of agriculture in Kentucky, explained earlier this year that burley tobacco takes on a harsh taste during the curing process.

“So manufacturers add flavors to make cigarettes made with burley more palatable to smokers,” he said. “A global ban on such additives would in effect eliminate the market for Kentucky-grown burley.”

Adding insult to potential injury for farmers, there is little evidence the proposed rules would reduce cigarette consumption.

“Foreign manufacturers would probably just shift to another variety of tobacco,” Commissioner Farmer said. “I do not believe that damaging Kentucky's economy in exchange for a negligible health benefit makes sense."