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Tribe Opens West Coast's First Cigarette Factory

Tom Banse
04/04/2005

The Pacific Northwest now has its very own cigarette factory. The first-of-its-kind plant around here is an economic diversification venture for a South Puget Sound Indian tribe. The American Lung Association reacts with horror. Correspondent Tom Banse has more from Mason County.

Sound: [packaging line]

IT'S A FACTORY YOU WOULD EXPECT TO FIND IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH. LITTLE BOXES OF CIGARETTES WHIZ DOWN A PRODUCTION LINE ON ONE SIDE OF A CAVERNOUS, SPOTLESS WAREHOUSE. THEY REPRESENT 'A DREAM COME TRUE' FOR SQUAXIN ISLAND TRIBAL CHAIRMAN DAVID LOPEMAN.

Lopeman: "Course, me being a smoker, I was the one who brought it up. We're about the ones who've started smoking and have 'em. We don't want no new smokers. We're after the major brands."

SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE, INCLUDING TRIBAL REPRESENTATIVES FROM ACROSS THE NORTHWEST, TURNED OUT FOR A FORMAL BLESSING CEREMONY THIS PAST WEEKEND, WHICH WAS FOLLOWED BY A FEAST OF ELK STEW, GRILLED SALMON AND DANCING.

Sound: [drumming/singing]

This is the first cigarette factory on the West Coast. Tribal enterprise C.E.O. Bob Whitener told the crowd that his small, 850-member tribe goes into the venture with eyes wide open.

Whitener: "We tell everybody, cigarettes are bad for you. So who better else to make cigarettes than a government, where we use the money for law enforcement, child care, health care? Whatever we can figure out to pay for with these funds, that's what we'll do. We won't be lining the pockets of a very few rich people."

WHITENER SAYS CIGARETTE PRODUCTION CREATES ABOUT 20 MANUFACTURING JOBS TO COMPLEMENT THE SERVICE SECTOR JOBS AT THE TRIBE'S EXISTING HOTEL, CASINO, AND TRADING POST. THE PUGET SOUND TRIBE BUYS PRE-BLENDED TOBACCO AND HAS IT SHIPPED IN FROM THE SOUTHEAST. THE SMALL-SCALE FACTORY CAN CHURN OUT UP TO 6000 CARTONS PER DAY. VISITING SMOKERS JUDY HUNTER OF YAKIMA AND KARI STEUBER OF LONGVIEW LIT UP AND GIVE THE NEW BRAND THUMBS UP.

Steuber: "I've tried the Lights and the full-flavor Kings and they're real smooth, real good."

Hunter: "They'll switch for just the price alone, but they'll keep continuing because it is a good cigarette.

MANUFACTURING ON A RESERVATION BRINGS MAJOR TAX ADVANTAGES. THE SQUAXIN TRIBE CAN IGNORE THE STATE'S HEFTY CIGARETTE TAX IF IT WANTS TO. THE TRIBAL BRAND CALLED COMPLETE CURRENTLY SELLS FOR ABOUT $16 DOLLARS A CARTON. THAT'S ABOUT HALF THE PRICE OF A SIMILAR PACKAGE SOLD OFF-RESERVATION.

Payton: "It's just frightening, it's frightening."

PAUL PAYTON, SPOKESPERSON FOR THE AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION OF WASHINGTON WORRIES THE VERY LOW PRICE WILL ENCOURAGE MORE SMOKING.

Payton: "We're concerned that all the great work that has been done around the state could possibly be undone by offering and selling cheaper tobacco products."

THE TRIBE RESPONDS THAT ITS MARKETING IS DESIGNED TO CAPTURE MARKET SHARE AMONG EXISTING SMOKERS, NOT TO ATTRACT NEW ONES. INITIALLY, THE LOCALLY PRODUCED CIGARETTES WILL BE SOLD AT SELECTED TRIBAL SMOKESHOPS ACROSS WASHINGTON. A HANDFUL OF OTHER TRIBES -- ALL IN THE MIDWEST AND NORTHEAST -- ALSO OPERATE SMALL CIGARETTE FACTORIES.
I'm Tom Banse near Shelton, Washington.

12.12.18

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