April 15, 2011 marked a special moment in the political history of the premium cigar industry. It was the day U.S. Congressman Bill Posey of Florida filed the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act for the first time. It was a spring day, almost five years ago to the day as I write this. He has done so now for four sessions of Congress.
What makes this act so unique is not just its purpose of protecting premium handmade cigars from draconian regulations proposed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, and not just to dramatize how the agency went well beyond Congressional intent in advancing the rule. It was that the very filing of the act marked the first time the premium cigar industry went on political offense.
Normally, and historically, the industry had to react to legislative threats. These ranged from local and state tax and smoking ban measures to the tax proposal to fund the federal State Childrenʼs Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which served as an industry wake-up call.
April 15, 2011 was different. It was the day premium cigar makers said, “We are different. We don’t deserve what they’re planning—and we’re not taking it lying down. It’s time to make our case.”
Since that day, 289 different members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 28 members of the U.S. Senate have signed legislation calling for an exemption for premium handmade cigars that meet a strict definition (over 60 of whom voted for the original Tobacco Control Act). More than 35 letters, either from individual members or joint letters, proclaiming support for this position have been sent to the former Administration, the new Administration and to multiple agencies within the federal government.
But what has been the result? Foes of this strategy say “not much,” questioning the expense and time into the effort. I beg to differ for one major reason—it created a standing record of legislators upon which to build a network of advocates that now know that we are different. This network can work to address issues well into the future, and can assist in conveying the serious concerns the industry has with the FDA regulatory process.
Without the process and strategy that has been executed over the last five years, we would not have known that the current Vice President of the United States, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services and White House Director of the Office of Management & Budget could be allies, by virtue of signing onto this legislation during their service in the House of Representatives. Without the strategy of the last five years, we would not have known that Democrats and Republicans alike could come together not on a “tobacco bill,” but on a bill that has enabled the industry to articulate its small business, family-driven, artistic and cultural foundations.
This process has compelled the industry to also take a deeper look at itself. It has allowed for the accumulation of information virtually unrealized before on the economic significance of the sector, especially in key states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Louisiana and Nevada, and the base of brand owners that are incorporated in California, Texas, New Jersey, Kentucky and Virginia.