I might be the least politically active person you will ever meet. The idea of politics is actually mildly offensive to me. I am ok debating religion and civil rights and other controversial topics, but politics is an immediate turnoff and I not only get agitated, I will just plain leave the room. To preface this, I always exercise my right to vote, so I feel like I have the right to have an opinion on the topic. It’s not so much politics, as it is politicians that irritate me. I am a member of a small business, so I can appreciate self-preservation and doing anything to succeed and keep your business healthy, but I don’t appreciate being two-faced. If you say you stand for something, stand for it, damn it! Don’t change your mind because it is the popular thing to do. I have much more respect for a person who is willing to go down with the ship, or even better, tries to steer the ship to safety.
As some of you are aware, and apparently a lot of you are not, a few years ago, the FDA was given jurisdiction over the tobacco industry as a whole. Some of you will recall a time when you could order RYO tobacco online. Before that, RYO tobacco was sold (here) for about $12 per pound, then it jumped to $45 with the stroke of a pen. After that, we were not even allowed to sell it anymore. Then the risk that pipe tobacco would be affected was a possibility. People got the message then that it could happen and did something about it. Now, the FDA wants to get their hands, and worse, legislation on Premium Cigars.
People can be passive and optimistic that nothing bad will happen, but why take the chance? Let me explain what I know about it (I am not a lawyer or a Poly Sci expert so forgive me). There are motions out there to essentially make it very difficult and in some situations illegal to purchase a premium cigar. Among other things, there is a proposal to ban all flavored cigars. I know people who will say, “who cares about flavored cigars,” but that is a livelihood for many in this industry. It will also become illegal for a customer to even enter a walk in humidor, or be allowed to handle the product at all before they buy it. They will have to look at a catalog of products on the counter and point to the ones they want to buy. Seriously!?! We are not buying cocaine here. This is a product made naturally by one of the crops that founded this great nation we live in. Advertising will only be allowed to be produced in black and white and even the contents of the cigars themselves may potentially be regulated.
What does all of this mean to you, the consumer? The potential death of your local B&M for one thing. In an area that is already so heavily legislated that small businesses are dying off faster than cheap batteries in your kids’ favorite electronics, we don’t need one more hurdle. Even if your store survives the hit, there is a chance that their inventory will suffer or their prices will skyrocket in an attempt to make up for the loss, which will also kill a business. If prices are too high, people will go elsewhere. You will probably see certain brands just disappear.
Along with those brands going away, so will jobs. Perhaps you may not notice, but reps will fall off, rollers will also have to go if there are no sales to support production, and eventually entire companies that you know and love could close up shop. There are an estimated 85,000 jobs in America related to the premium cigar industry. The FDA’s proposal to “keep tobacco out of the hands of minors” will be more of a detriment to the economy than a benefit to the health of kids. In an article that I cited below, is shows a statistic that 19% of high school boys currently smoke cigars. When I was in HS, I would walk through the woods on the way home and I saw kids smoking, but it sure as hell was not cigars. Perhaps they used a cigar to make what they were smoking, but there was no tobacco in the wrapper. I don’t recall ever seeing a 16 year old kid with a Partagas in his mouth. I have, however, seen kids with the occasional Swisher or Dutch Master, but is that really a cigar? By definition yes because they comply to the (slightly ambiguous) word of the law so they are not taxed as a cigarette, but let’s face it, if you can buy it at a gas station, there is nothing “premium” about it. It is just a glorified better tasting cigarette, which is not saying much about cigarettes becasue they still taste like ****. Once in a while you will see an old man smoking them, but that’s because he started back when FDR was President and he could get the whole box of 50 for a nickel. They tasted better back then too because they were allowed to use tobacco from Cuba. Don’t get me started on why we cannot smoke Cubans here either. Anyway, in addition to those jobs being lost, the tobacco industry creates so much revenue for the government in the taxes it pays every year that they could use it to buy a small country. If that source of income folds, they will just go after something else. I am waiting for the “Fat Ass” tax. My guess is that Mayor Bloomberg from NYC will be first in line to sign that one.
Anyway, this is not just a rant. I have a reason for all of this. You can help. It doesn’t even require much effort. There is a bill in effect now that opposes the FDA’s legislation. It is called H.R. 1639 / S. 1461 – Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act. A huge supporter of this Act is the Cigar Rights of America (CRA). They make it very easy to show your support. Click here to be taken directly to a site sponsored by CRA to contact your representative and tell them your feelings. I did it myself, it is relatively idiot proof, and in matters of politics, I am an idiot. Once you fill in your contact information, it will tell you who your representatives are (You don’t even have to know). It will compose the email for you, and if you don’t have an email, they will snail mail a letter on your behalf. You don’t even have to get off your ass to do this, so there is no excuse not to. There is already some support in favor of the Act, but more is needed. I was rather surprised at how fast I received a return email from 2 of the 3 representatives I contacted. It did not appear to be a form letter either, although it may have just been a well written form letter. The appeal to the representatives is that small business will be affected in their jurisdiction. We all know that most reps are in support of small business and are willing to jump through hoops like a trained dog if they will earn the votes of business owners in an upcoming election. Here are some excerpts from the letters I got back:
Paul Tonko (congress):
As you know, H.R. 1639 amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to limit the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to promulgate regulations for traditional large and premium cigars. This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for further review. While I do not sit on that specific committee, I will certainly keep your views in mind should this legislation come to a vote before the full House of Representatives.
Again, thank you for your correspondence. I am most appreciative. As your representative in Congress, I will continue to prioritize policies that create jobs, grow our economy, and protect the middle class while responsibly reducing the federal deficit.
Chuck Schumer (senate):
I believe small business is the engine that drives job growth in America. For the past three decades the largest area of job creation has been in the small business sector. When we help our entrepreneurs, we help our economy. That is why I was a strong supporter of the Small Business Jobs Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in the fall of 2010. I know how important these businesses are and will continue to lead the fight for American jobs.
Again, I am not a fan of politicians in general, but I do appreciate the response, even if it was a canned response. It at least shows active interest in their constituents.
Here are some other articles to check out regarding this topic:
Bottom line here is that I love my job, and I like smoking cigars, I have been very fortunate to be able to turn a hobby into a career. I don’t want either to be in jeopardy. I encourage you to take a few minutes to help save your hobby and perhaps your job as well if you are in the business. I assume that if you are reading this, you enjoy a cigar on occasion and would like to continue to do so. Even if there is no B&M in your area, you have to get your cigars somewhere and if this happens, you might not be able to get them anywhere.