Filmmaker: Mark Johnston

What happens when something you and your family have been planting and selling for generations is now considered a deadly crop?

In eastern Canada tobacco farming has been a staple of the economy and the community for generations, feeding the farm and the smoking habit of millions in North America. Ontario alone was once the fourth largest tobacco growing region in North America.

Mark Johnston (middle) with his mother 
Canadian tobacco farmers now find themselves in an odd dilemma. They grow a product that is legal, but is blamed for the premature cancer-related deaths of 45,000 Canadians every year.

Every province, with the exception of Alberta, has passed some form of smoking ban in public places such as bars and restaurants.

Filmmaker Mark Johnston has strong memories of growing up surrounded by tobacco fields in south western Ontario, where 98% of Canada’s tobacco is grown. He recalls seeing tobacco farmers drive luxury cars from the dealership across his home and gathering with neighbours and friends on the streets every year to watch the annual town parade marking the start of the tobacco harvest.

Mark decides to go back to his hometown for the wedding of his brother. He also wants to find out how the people there are coping in an increasingly non-smoking world. He discovers that tobacco and smoking are much more a part of who we are than many people realize.

For him, the issue is deeply personal. His own mother has been addicted to smoking for as long as he can remember. He and the rest of this family are determined for her to quit but the task proves to be more difficult than expected.

Since the making of this film, Mark Johnston's neighbour and farmer has stopped farming tobacco and now grows Chinese vegetables for the growing Asian population in Toronto.

This episode of Witness is scheduled to air on Sunday, March 23, 2008.

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