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Tobacco has been the life and livelihood of Kent Boyd for 20 years.

Thursday he joined about 3,000 other tobacco farmers here in a demonstration of how important that life is to him. In what was billed as a modern-day "Boston Tea Party," they cheered as bales of tobacco were tossed into the Kentucky River to protest plans to increase taxes on tobacco products to help finance health care.Before dumping the tobacco, the farmers met with members of their state legislative delegation and then attended a rally billed as "Fairness for Tobacco Farmers."

At the rally, John Rose, president of the Kentucky Senate and a tobacco farmer himself, and Joe Clark, the speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, described resolutions adopted by both chambers earlier in the day opposing new taxes on tobacco.

The resolutions are to be sent to Gov. Brereton Jones and then to President Clinton.

Farmers like Boyd, 34, of Hopkinsville, Ky., and Greg Litchfield, 38, of Cadiz, Ky., shook their heads over the talk about raising taxes on tobacco. They said that for every stalk grown, $5 worth of taxes is already being levied.

Boyd said he believed most growers felt the industry should pay its share of taxes.

"But, we object to being singled out because somebody thinks smoking is a health hazard," he said. "There are a lot of things worse. Liquor is just as bad. But Washington has just found something to zero in on."

Boyd came to the state capital with 30 other Western Kentucky tobacco farmers.

Boyd said he decided he wanted to be a farmer when he was 19. With a $190,000 government loan, he bought 235 acres in Western Kentucky, just outside of Hopkinsville. By growing tobacco, he has been able to pay off most of that loan and make what he calls "a good living."