Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Not Here, You Don't: Smoking Ban at Subsidized Plant Angers Growers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Not Here, You Don't: Smoking Ban at Subsidized Plant Angers Growers

Article excerpt

KENTUCKY OFFICIALS offered at least $20 million in incentives to lure Scott Paper Co. and its new multimillion dollar industrial plant to the state. They dangled new roads, employee training, grants and loans before company officials.

Scott accepted eagerly, building its high-tech paper plant amid the soybean, corn and tobacco fields of western Kentucky. The company hired 230 workers, paying them high salaries. It even piped its wastewater miles away, to bypass the nearby Green River because of environmental concerns.

Then Scott committed the ultimate sacrilege in Kentucky: It banned smoking, not just inside its buildings but anywhere on the 2-square-mile property. In the midst of tobacco country, the company has established one of the toughest no-smoking policies in the nation. Any infraction will result in immediate dismissal.

If Scott employees want to light up on their lunch hour, they must walk to the parking lot, then follow the sapling-lined driveway out to U.S. 60 and park on the shoulder. Or they can drive to a local diner.

"If you're a smoker - and we have people who smoke - they leave the plant for their lunch break and drive at least a mile and a half off the property," plant manager Mike Lerch said. "We work 12-hour shifts; so basically, you abstain for 12 hours."

The irony is hard to miss. Daviess County, where the plant is located, has more than 800 active tobacco farmers who last year produced 6.8 million pounds of tobacco, the state's Agriculture Department says. At an average price of $1.83 per pound, the tobacco raised there was worth nearly $12.5 million. About $20 million more in tobacco from surrounding counties was sold at auctions in Owensboro.

Scott's plant, which opened this year, covers about 1,200 acres. About 800 acres are leased to local farmers. They once grew tobacco on the property but now are allowed to grow only soybeans, corn and winter wheat.

The president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative - the group representing farmers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri - lives less than three miles from the Scott plant. He is fuming over Scott's policy. …

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