Six weird places the Virginia Tobacco Commission spends its money


UP IN SMOKE: The Virginia Tobacco Commission likes to spend money.

By Kaitlyn Speer |, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va.— The inner-workings of Virginia’s tobacco commission is no longer a mystery to residents, thanks to a federal investigation and’s look at a state inspector general report.

The 31-member legislative body, created by the 1999 General Assembly, uses proceeds from the national tobacco settlement in the “promotion of economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities.” To date, the commission has awarded 1,764 grants totaling more than $1 billion across the tobacco region of Virginia. The tobacco commission spent nearly $144 million last year.

Here is a list of the most unusual places the Virginia Tobacco Commission chose to spend money:

1. The Abingdon Feeder Cattle Association, Inc. got $400,000 for its Beef Builder Initiative.

2. The Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine was given $150,000 because, apparently, the dental medicine curriculum and accreditation must involve the “promotion of economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities.”

3. The tobacco commission also cares about your education. It gave the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center $4.5 million for its scholarship program. It also gave that same group $2 million for its region scholarship program.

4. The Virginia Museum of Natural History Foundation must also be considered able to promote the “economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities.” The group received $66,395 for its Institute for Integrated STEM-H Education.

5. The tobacco commission seems to have a vested interest in Martinsville-Henry County Shrimp Culture — at least an interest worth $673,060.

6. The tobacco commission really seems to care about Danville. Two of its members, Daniel W. Marshall, III and Donald W. Merricks, are from that city. Here were some of the ways they donated:

  • The Danville-Pittsylvania Regional Industrial Facility Authority received $4.9 million for a sanitary sewer project.
  • The city of Danville also received $510,000 for the “commercialization of prasidiux temperature indicators.” What is that? The 2013 report doesn’t say.
  • Danville received $1.1 million for AlergEase, Inc., and
  • $1 million for GOK International Corp.
  • $600,000 for Macerata Wheels, LLC
  • $625,000 for Norhurst, Inc.

Kaitlyn Speer is an intern for, Virginia Bureau. She can be reached at or on Twitter at @KSpeer11.