Tobacco growers call Koop report 'absurd'

By CATHY CASH  |  May 16, 1988
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Surgeon General Everett Koop's report classifying cigarette nicotine as addictive as cocaine and heroin is 'absurd' and insulting to the nation's smokers, a tobacco growers leader said Monday.

'I think he's done two things: insulted 70 million smokers who would not consider themselves in the same category as drug addicts, and, secondly, trivialized the serious drug problem we have in this country,' said Carlton Blalock, vice president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, the nation's top grower of tobacco for cigarettes.

Koop announced unequivocally that cigarettes and other tobacco products are addictive and he called for restrictions on their sale and distribution.

'This report shows conclusively that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting in the same sense as are drugs such as heroin and cocaine,' said Koop in the seventh report issued during his tenure.

The 618-page report, 'The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction,' was unveiled in Washington Monday. Previous surgeon general reports reviewed medical and scientific evidence showing that cigarette smoking and tobacco use damage health or cause particular diseases, but this is the first to specifically say that tobacco is addictive.

'It is absurd,' Blalock said of Koop's report. 'It is a very disturbing and incorrect message.'

Public health statistics show about 40 million smokers nationwide have managed to quit smoking without intervention, which disputes Koop's nicotine addictive claims, Blalock said. Since 1981, there has been a steady decline in consumption and the number of cigarettes smoked in 1987 was estimated at 574 billion.

Blalock said he, himself, is living proof that smokers can quit on their own volition, which may not be the case for heroin or cocaine addicts.

'Though I quit (smoking) 27 years ago, I can still enjoy an occasional cigarette,' he said. 'However, heroin and cocaine addicts can't participate in occasional indulgence.'

Blalock said numerous 'golden leaf' farmers across the state, reeling from losses due to lower consumption, have called him with concern about the Koop report.

North Carolina is the nation's largest grower of the flue-cured tobacco used in cigarettes, with some 500 million pounds of leaf expected to be harvested this year. Blalock said that's a 10 percent to 12 percent increase over last year's crop but nowhere near records of 900 million pounds during the 1970s.

However, Blalock said with the 1986 federal tobacco price support program, which included the first quota increase in 13 years, things are 'looking up' for the leaf grower.

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