As the cigar industry copes with the effects of nationwide, state mandated shutdowns, it might be time to look to a more impactful front of an ever-growing battlefield. For years now, every cigar retailer, cigar manufacturer, and cigar media outlet in the country have focused on the impending doom of the FDA regulation. While this is a true and noble cause, the FDA has been gridlocked by regulatory easing and the oppositional efforts from hardcore industry warriors. This is not to discount or discredit that battle or those who have fought it thus far, and, inevitably these regulations will rear their heads once again. There are, however, battles being fought constantly in every state in the nation that are being lost on a consistent basis that demand attention.
Some states are cigar-friendly, and some are not. That is not exactly new information of course, but each legislative session usually brings about greater regulation that squeezes the possibility for business. States like Colorado have constitutionalized a 40% tobacco tax while the newly minted recreational marijuana businesses only pay 25%. On top of that, Colorado state legislators have implemented a permission that allows each county to charge their own tobacco tax rate on top of the 40% state rate already in effect. This is only one example of a state legislature run amok with its own power and idealistic agenda that hurts small business owners and their employees before ultimately exterminating a culture that fosters community and social inclusion. Other states like Arizona stay fairly consistent while implementing minor or unrecognizable infringements on their “cigar liberties” such as a 3-cent increase on the cigar tax. Even so, there is the rare occasion when local governments reverse their previous protocols and alleviate taxes and regulation. Even in these states where the cigar industry thrives with little oversight, the potential for legislative oppression is always one state congressional session away, which is why the industry as a whole need to take a new approach to legislative concerns.
With the ongoing restrictions that business across the country are subjected to, there is a future to be had beyond pandemic pandemonium. The question that remains is what kind of new normal are participants in this industry going to experience? Will each state enforce new social distancing measures that restrict the amount of people permissible in each lounge? Will lounges be outlawed? Will nothing change? Will the cigar industry experience a boom when the dust and anxiety around the current pandemic settle? These are the kind immediate and ever-changing scenarios that are haunting the thoughts of retailers and manufacturers alike. One thing is certain amongst varying predictions; the need to stand strong against government intervention is stronger than ever.
In order to ensure stronger business and more leisure in our industry, the fight must first take place at the local level. Retailers in each state know the first fight is against local interference. State laws are more restrictive than the federal proposals every day of the week. In order to win these fights, the interests of retailers, manufacturers, and cigar media outlets all need to coincide, and these three entities need to work in tandem. As the unity and strength of the combined efforts of the industry improve, so will the chances of success in the fight for free enterprise, first at the local level then ultimately at the federal level.
Retailers in each state first need to participate in their local state associations. This first step to success also goes hand in hand with the responsibility to acknowledge that there cannot be division and strife between neighboring retailers. This fight is not about special or exclusive interests and that must be represented in the attitudes portrayed within each state association.
Manufacturers have incentive to participate in these state battles as well. By allowing themselves and their sales staff (whom are present in each state) to participate in state association meetings and hearings at state capitols, manufacturers are fighting to keep their customers thriving. This effort will not go unnoticed by anyone paying attention. Legislators will hear testimony from entities that have a larger scope on business and national regulation. Retailers will see that their partners in this industry care about doing business. And the manufacturers themselves are fighting to keep their business in each state intact.
Cigar media outlets have the capability to be of use as well. Manufacturers and media have been useful partners to promote sales and clout in the industry. These media outlets provide wonderful information and opportunities for the end-user to gain a new appreciation for cigars. What if this medium could be used to inform the consumer base more and more about state legislative battles across the country? By interviewing sales reps, shop owners, and industry figureheads, the cigar media becomes more about the connection, the vines that bridge the various gaps between consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and the legislature. The more the outlets partner with PCA in particular on this front, the harder it is for legislators to avoid the ire of retailers and end users.
The Premium Cigar Association has a unique opportunity to be heavily involved and to support each and every arm of the industry. By partnering with and sharing information between all of the concerned parties, the information battle is already won. Additionally, PCA has the resources to provide training and documentation to aid the lobbying battle with bolstered ranks of interested parties. By leading the effort, The Premium Cigar Association is proving its commitment to the survival of the industry along with everyone else.
2020 has already been a whirlwind, but the year has also provided us the opportunity to find a strong foundation to move forward into this new decade. Let us all do it together and let us create a new standard for the cigar industry across the nation that favors economic liberty and that we can all support.