- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) From cereal to corn chips, Americans consume a variety of products made from genetically engineered crops. They soon can add cigarettes to the list; new smokes are due this spring with tobacco genetically altered to be very low in nicotine.
A new Agriculture Department study confirmed the low levels of nicotine, the chemical that gets smokers hooked, in the biotech tobacco and found that the crop poses little risk to the environment.
Tobacco from crops grown on department-supervised test plots last summer is going into the cigarettes made by Vector Group Ltd., parent company of cigarette maker Liggett Group.
The company has asked the Agriculture Department to remove restrictions on where and how the tobacco can be grown, and the agency probably will go along. The tobacco was genetically altered to block the production of nicotine in the plant's roots.
"This thing could be a home run, and it could flop. We think the odds are that it is going to be a successful product," said Donald Trott, an analyst with the brokerage firm Jefferies and Company Inc.
Vector, which makes Eve-brand cigarettes and various generic and discount products, has not said where it will sell the biotech cigarettes beginning in the spring or what they will be called.
Mr. Trott said people who have tried the cigarettes say they light, smoke and taste like ordinary cigarettes.
Government approval would make the tobacco one of the first biotech crops to have a consumer use. Gene-altered soy, the most common biotech crop, can be sprayed with weedkiller without killing it. Other crops resist pests or diseases.
Tobacco industry critics fear low-nicotine cigarettes could encourage more smoking. "A nicotine-free cigarette could still deliver very high levels of harmful toxic substances," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Many tobacco farmers and Vector's rival cigarette manufacturers are concerned about the product, too. Growers say the biotech tobacco could get mixed with conventional leaf and jeopardize U.S. exports.
"It is a big issue. It has the potential to change tobacco and tobacco production and the production controls that we have had on tobacco for many years," said Larry Wooten, a partner in a tobacco farm and president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. "Many of our farmers are not, I would say, aware of the serious implications that this has."
The government traditionally has controlled tobacco prices and production through the use of quotas, which entitle the owners to market a given amount of leaf each year.
Penalties on non-quota tobacco make it uneconomical to grow in the handful of states that have quotas, such as North Carolina and Kentucky, so Vector is setting up production elsewhere.
The company grew the crop on 5,200 acres in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mississippi, Louisiana, Iowa and Hawaii.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide