Tobacco is top target in Beshear’s health plans, but he still praises expansion of plant that makes smokeless tobacco

Gov. Steve Beshear says tobacco is the main cause of Kentuckians’ relatively poor health, which he is pushing to improve, but on Feb. 27 “his tone shifted as he praised the
economic benefits from a tobacco company’s plans to expand its Western
Kentucky processing operations for smokeless tobacco products,” reports Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press.

U.S.
Smokeless Tobacco Co.
, an Altria Group subsidary that makes Copenhagen and Skoal from local tobacco, says it will spend $118 million and create 42 jobs as it expands its 90-employee plant in Hopkinsville. Beshear called that “proof that
Kentucky is a great place to grow a business.” If the company creates the predicted number of jobs, it could get $4.5 million and $1.4 million, respectively, in state and local tax breaks.

Tobacco farming is a smaller part of Kentucky’s economy today than it was for most of the 20th Century, but Schreiner notes the state has the nation’s highest percentage of smokers and “has the worst or near-worst rates for smoking, cancer deaths,
heart disease and high blood pressure.” Smokeless tobacco is linked to cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus.

Those are among the reasons Beshear’s tax-reform plan would raise levies on cigarettes and smokeless
tobacco. “He also touts legislation calling for a statewide
smoking ban at workplaces and in public buildings,” Schreiner notes. “Altria opposes any tobacco tax increases.”

The American Cancer Society says smokeless tobacco can cause nicotine addiction, which can lead
to smoking, and can also lead to gum disease
and tooth decay. Oral health is one of the seven main points in Beshear’s recently announced plan to improve the state’s health, Schreiner notes.

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