With the continued pressure of local ordinances and state legislative bills that seek to restrict or prohibit the sale of legal tobacco products, raise excise tax rates and increase the legal age to purchase tobacco products, retailers need to invest the time to develop a relationship with their local and state lawmakers.
This is important because retailers have the means to educate lawmakers about how product bans, tax increases and other restrictions on tobacco products affect their businesses, their employees’ jobs and the support that they provide to their local communities. Moreover, elected officials are usually very open to getting to know their constituents and want to learn about local businesses in their districts.
This year will be similar to past years, with numerous local and state legislative proposals that will directly impact the sale of tobacco products. Now is an excellent time for all retailers to reach out to their local and state officials to begin the process of developing these relationships.
The following suggestions will help you establish a relationship with lawmakers:
- Visit your city or town’s website and find the list of the city council or town board members.
- For state lawmakers, visit your state’s legislative website. The home page should have an address form to complete to obtain the names and contact information of the state senator and state representative for the district in which your store is located.
- For members of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, NATO staff members are also available to assist retailers in determining their local and state lawmakers. You can ask for help by emailing the staff member listed below who is assigned to cover your state:Tim McKinney
(email@example.com): Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont.Josh Pruett (firstname.lastname@example.org): Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.
Brian Daniels (email@example.com): Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia.
Steve Duffy (firstname.lastname@example.org): Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Utah and Wisconsin.
Brian Carr (email@example.com): Minnesota.
- Store Tour: One of the best ways for an elected official to get to know you and your retail business is to invite a lawmaker to tour your store. A store tour gives you the opportunity to introduce your store employees; discuss how many people your store employs; explain your business model; discuss the percentage of sales from tobacco products; talk about the additional purchases made by tobacco consumers; describe the potential impact that could occur if tobacco restrictions, sales prohibitions or higher taxes are enacted; and outline the support that your store provides to the local community.
- Office Visit: Another excellent way to establish a relationship with lawmakers is to visit them at their city or state offices. During the visit, you can share the same kind of information listed above about your business that you would emphasize if the official were to tour your store.
- Fundraisers/Lawn Signs: Many lawmakers hold fundraisers during the year, which is also a good time to show your support for them. As they may be running for election or re-election, this is also a time to talk with them about your retail business. Another way to help a lawmaker is to offer to put their campaign sign in your yard if you
feel so inclined.
- Stay in Touch: After you initially establish the relationship, it is important to stay in touch with lawmakers several times throughout the year regardless of whether a tobacco issue is pending.
While establishing relationships with elected officials will take a commitment and follow-up, this is the time to reach out to local and state lawmakers as the new year gets underway.
– Contributed by Thomas A. Briant, the executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO)