Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry

By Peter Benson | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Good, Clean Tobacco

ECONOMIC RESTRUCTURING IN THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY induced changes related to how growers manage their businesses, interact with and talk about the farm labor workforce, and derive symbolic and material worth from tobacco farming. With the Tobacco Buyout of 2004, discussed in chapter 3, the government distanced itself from leaf production. Growers are at the mercy of cutthroat companies with flexible international sourcing mechanisms. The traditional marketing system for tobacco (public auctions at locally owned warehouses) has been dismantled. The new system operates on one-year private contracts between growers and tobacco companies. Temporary contracts are now the only way to market tobacco, and they give companies unprecedented control over production. The ongoing critique of the industry by the antitobacco movement and the expansion of the government’s regulation of smoking also influence how growers talk about the tobacco business and their own moral worth, both as members of the national community and as parents. This chapter and the next are about how structural changes in the tobacco industry, the intensification of corporate power on farms, and the societal problematization of smoking and health play out in the lives of North Carolina tobacco growers and workers.

To coincide with the FDA bill passed in 2009, which, as discussed in chapter 1, includes the potential for the development of potentially reducedrisk tobacco products, Philip Morris’s grower contracts include stringent quality control standards aimed at producing a “good, clean” product. For example, bales of tobacco leaf must be free of “trash” (nontobacco materials) and register only moderate levels of certain carcinogenic agricultural chemicals. Philip Morris can cancel the contracts of noncompliant farmers, effectively putting them out of business, and says stringency makes tobacco safer for consumers. This is part of the company’s effort to induce the profitable illusion of a “safer” cigarette while at the same time reconfiguring itself as a kind of public health advocacy group.

When analyzed at the farm level, these presumably health-driven industry changes involve a morass of paradoxes. Contracting fosters fragmented workplace conditions where various problems cluster and thrive. Prices are tightly ratcheted to fully mechanized production methods, which has pushed many farmers out of business, enabled further farm

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Tobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- The Tobacco Industry, Public Health, and Agrarian Change 35
  • Chapter 1- Most Admired Company 37
  • Chapter 2- The Jungle 63
  • Chapter 3- Enemies of Tobacco 96
  • Part II- Innocence and Blame in American Society 133
  • Chapter 4- Good, Clean Tobacco 135
  • Chapter 5- El Campo 166
  • Chapter 6- Sorriness 210
  • Conclusion Reflections on the Tobacco Industry (and American Exceptionalism) 258
  • Bibliography 275
  • Index 307
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