The weed hasn't gotten this much attention in a decade, at least not outside the Surgeon General's office.
Health, Educational and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano set the sparks flying over the weekend when he questioned the wisdom of government subsidies to tobacco farmers while simultaneously trying to discourage smoking because of its effects on human health.
Before newsmen could wangle a pointed response from Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, Bergland volunteered to reporters at a press conference yesterday afternoon that the two cabinet officers have agreed not to try to run each other's departments.
Bergland said, "I'm not going to get into the question of whether tobacco is healthy or unsafe - I'm not qualified to judge in that regard, and Joe Califano assured me that he's not going to get into the price support issue." Bergland said the two would meet soon to discuss tobacco and health.
Califano, who had said this weekend, "We certainly should not be doing anything to make it (tobacco) cheaper," said yesterday he does not make farm policy. He acknowledged that "there are a lot of small tobacco farmers who depend for a living on growing tobacco."
The aim of the Agriculture Department's price support program, which involves acreage and marketing controls, is to raise the price of tobacco, not to make it cheaper, as Califano suggested.
By late yesterday, President Carter, a Southern farmer himself, got into the issue. White House press secretary Jody Powell told reporters Carter does not think stopping tobacco subsidies is a good idea because of the economic damage that would be suffered by farmers.