Preceding the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin was famously reported to have proclaimed, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” It is in the spirit of Franklin’s declaration, that the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) announces a new effort to partner with more than 60 state and national trade associations to launch the National Response Network (NRN). The creation of this organization will make it easier for tens of thousands of businesses across the country to both be aware of pending local tobacco legislation and to constructively engage with policymakers to impact proposed regulations.
Every year, local units of government propose hundreds of restrictive laws that can dramatically impact tobacco retail businesses. State and federal legislation, as compared to local legislation, is relatively easy to monitor through central databases. Because of timely notice, legislatures and clear committee processes, opportunities for business owners to engage with policymakers in state capitals or Washington, D.C., can be more prevalent. Monitoring local legislation, however, is a much more difficult task.
Thousands of local governments provide notice of pending legislation in different ways. Likewise, the legislative processes often vary from one jurisdiction to the next within a specific state, much less over 50 states. While it is difficult to be aware that local legislation has been proposed, opportunities to influence those proposals become that much challenging at the town, city and county levels.
Often, by the time businesses become aware of local ordinances that threaten their livelihoods, the opportunity to constructively engage with decision-makers may have already passed. By working together and sharing experiences and strategies, organizations and their members across the country can more effectively influence the legislative process and be more proactive in affecting the outcome of local tobacco ordinances. The 60 organizations that have already joined the NRN are just the beginning, and the overall goal is to have organizations partnering in all 50 states.
Each of the participating NRN organizations will be provided important information to educate their members about effective methods to establish relationships with local elected officials before local ordinances are proposed. This relationship building can take the form of store visits or office meetings—and can help facilitate effective communication with officials when local legislation is proposed. Cultivating constructive relationships with local elected officials holds the key to preventing restrictive tobacco regulations from being introduced, minimizing the potential impact from proposed legislation or defeating harmful legislation when it is considered.
In organizing and directing this effort, an underlying principle has been the belief that the whole of the NRN partnership can be greater than the sum of its parts. Each of the participating organizations will have an opportunity to contribute to the success of this joint effort by sharing important information with the coalition and the coalition making that information available to all of the participating NRN members. The ultimate objective of the NRN is not only to provide important information but to provide a platform from which affected businesses can effectively act on that information by communicating with local lawmakers. One way we can help elected officials do their jobs better is to ensure that they have an opportunity to hear from informed residents and local businesses about important policy issues.
Through this venture, NATO hopes to develop a more educated and engaged retail community that is prepared to constructively participate in the local legislative process across the country.
– Contributed by Thomas A. Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO)