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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Rockingham County, per federal mandate, to ban ALL tobacco farming and products

EDIT 9:50 p.m. EST 04/01/2008: Click here for a MAJOR BREAKING UPDATE regarding this news story!

Details about this will soon be released to the press via regular channels, but here is what The Knight Shift has learned...

Rockingham County, North Carolina - the #1 tobacco-producing region in the entire country - will soon become the first 100% tobacco-free area in the United States.

What this means is: no smoking anywhere in public, no smoking in private homes, and no cultivation of tobacco on the many farms throughout the county.

It's part of a deal between county officials and the U.S. Department of Public Health. In exchange for "willingly" giving up tobacco, the federal government will disburse $120 million to assist Rockingham County's medical and preventative health infrastructure.

If all goes according to plan, there won't be a cigarette, cigar, pouch of chewing tobacco, or can of tobacco seed in sight by spring of 2009 anywhere in Rockingham County.

County officials reached late last night said that they felt they had little choice but to accept the deal. "Look Chris, Rockingham County needs all the help it can get right now," Reidsville deputy mayor Irving "Bud" Wombler told me via telephone. "I know it seems like we're going to be giving up a lot of our culture and our industry, but these are modern times and it's time we embrace that."

Wombler told me that in addition to shoring-up the county's health services, that part of the money would be used to establish a new state-of-the-art hospital in southern Rockingham County, which is seeing enormous population growth as people from Guilford, Forsyth and Alamance counties move to Rockingham to enjoy relatively lower property taxes. "We are considering land along U.S. 158 in the Midway area for the Rockingham Regional Medical Center," Wombler said. When I asked if this would be near what is locally known as the Cheap-Cheap Curb Market, Wombler could only give a curt "no comment" reply. When I notified him that $120 million would not come anywhere near close to covering both the full cost of a new hospital (the new county jail alone is expected to cost $40 million) and providing medical services, Wombler could only mumble something about "bond referendum".

Fritz Hippler, Municipal Relations Director with the U.S. Department of Public Health, returned my phone call late yesterday evening. He was polite, but he was also resolute in his department's policy: "Right now it's just a pilot program," Hippler told me, "but we are looking at expanding it to other cities and counties throughout America. The reason we approached Rockingham County, North Carolina first is that if it can be made to work here, it can be made to work anywhere."

At this point I asked him about whether there had been any consideration about personal liberty in this. Hippler told me: "It's the belief of the current administration that the American people should and are willing to give up a little liberty for a little security. Isn't being able to go into a smoke-free town worth all the money that it will be getting from the federal government to improve health and well-being in that city?"

Hippler further suggested that more money would be sent to Rockingham County if it took steps to "cleanse" its tobacco-centered culture. "It is my understanding that City Hall in Reidsville has a mural depicting tobacco farming," Hippler told me. "We would grant the City of Reidsville additional funds if it paints over it and removes that image from public display." When I informed Hippler that there is also a very large mural on Scales Street that depicts rows of tobacco being farmed, he told me that "of course that would have to be removed also, if Reidsville wanted the additional funds."

Wombler told me that Reidsville mayor James Festerman would be appearing in a joint press conference along with the mayors of Eden, Stoneville, Madison, Mayodan, as well as the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners before the end of the week to discuss the deal and how Rockingham County will make "the transition to a completely tobacco-free society". As part of the grace period, Wombler told me that the federal government would be sending coupons to eligible residents of Rockingham County that will be redeemable for free nicotine patches and "nicotine chewing gum".

I'm going to stay on top of this story, folks, and report anything else that I find. In my opinion this is going to be a disaster for Rockingham County: I'm not a smoker, but I'm no fool and this is going to destroy this area's economy like nothing ever has before. What the hell are these people thinking?!

Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...


I'm so tired of what's going on in this county and this country.

Anonymous said...

You can have my Lucky Strike... when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.