“All politics is local” is the title of the opening chapter in former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill’s biography. It has since become the operative term for anyone seeking office, or hoping to stay in public office, with the lesson “do not lose touch with your constituency.”
Since 2009, the mission and work of Cigar Rights of America in collaboration with associated trade organizations, has been to raise the level of activism and awareness on the necessity of the entire industry to be engaged in the legislative process. Since then, petitions to elected officials have been sent on dozens of local and state issues and nearly a half-million cigar patrons have let their voices be heard in opposition to federal regulation of cigars. But there is much more to be done.
With well over 100 premium cigar manufacturers, approximately 2,000 premium tobacconists and between three to six million consumers, those passionate for and reliant upon premium handmade cigars should be among the most sought after special interest groups in the nation. A few years ago, I addressed the Tobacconists Association of America’s annual meeting, and noted that with their membership of retail enterprises alone, they easily represent at least two million cigar consumers. That is a special interest group worth building.
As we began this story, it was about being “local.” Well, even when discussing Washington, D.C., we are dealing with “local.” Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate must earn your support for reelection, and that makes our collective voices important. 2017 represents a unique opportunity to “turn back the clock” on federal regulation, but it will take an unprecedented level of outreach to both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to make that happen. At this early point in the year, it also marks the opening and, by now, middle stages of virtually every state legislature. All of this demands that we be ever more engaged at each level of the industry.
CRA, as well as organizations such as IPCPR and the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, are engaged in grassroots outreach. When trying to galvanize the masses on legislation in areas ranging from Salem, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts, there is no such thing as too many emails, calls and requests for assistance or redundancy.
The tools remain the same, whether attacking an issue in Washington D.C., your state capitol or city hall. Print this list, and put it on the wall of your office. It’s how we can win:
- Visit the local office of each of your legislators, whether a city councilman, state legislator or member of Congress. Make sure they know your name, your business and that you have customers who vote.
- Invite your local, state and federal politicians into your business for a Cigar Town Hall. Arrange for them to meet some of your customers; that’s how they will know you represent a true voting block.
- Invite local media into your shop, to learn about your issue and to send a message to your legislators that your small business is being threatened by the actions of government (or can benefit from a given bill.)
- Print speaking points and issue briefs for your customers, and have them available at point of sale; put them in every bag that goes out the door.
- Send email notices and links to petitions on legislation when you are promoting sales and events.
- Arrange for a “Capitol Day” or “City Council Night” for your fellow tobacconists and patrons to highlight your issues and always “stack a room” if you’re being threatened by ordinances or legislation.
- Calls are important. Make sure you and your patrons call the offices of your legislators at all levels, and follow up with letters and emails. It’s about volume, quality, and consistency.
What sparked some of this thought was reading a comment on social media from a gentleman who wished CRA (and I guess others) would “do more than petitions.” Well, this industry is still training its base to do anything at all, in defense of the passion we share for great cigars.
Now that H.R. 564 and S. 294 have been filed in Congress, calling for regulatory relief; now that there is an anti-regulation agenda on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and now that dozens of state and local bills are working for or against the interests of the industry and its customers, petitioning your government could not be more important. Now, however, petition means engagement as never before.
You can learn more about legislative issues pending in your state in the Legislative Action Center at cigarrights.org.
– Contributed by Glynn Loope, executive director of Cigar Rights of America.
This story first appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.