Hearings are a tool used by the state and federal legislatures to engage with the public, specifically with those members of the public who are distinctly affected by the proposed legislation or policies for which the hearings are being conducted. Hearing participants are also selected based on their expertise in a particular subject matter. For example, PCA members may be suitable witnesses or participants in hearings on small business issues, taxation, retailing, employment, etc.…
From time to time a member of either the PCA Government Affairs team, or your state association leadership will inquire about your participation in an official hearing on behalf of the premium cigar industry. These hearings typically occur when a committee is considering public comment on a bill they are reviewing from constituents and stakeholder groups. This is a normal part of the legislative process and allows those who will be most affected by the legislation to make sure their voice is heard.
- A Hearing may request industry speakers and have a fixed agenda, a hearing may have open public comments, or a hearing may require advance notice of presenting a public comment. Much of this is determined by the individual state, locality, or committee.
- A hearing may also require written comments submitted to the committee beforehand. PCA staff or your state association leadership will be able to assist with determining the logistics of your hearing participation.
- Preparing for a hearing takes some time and coordination. Participation in a hearing signifies your level of expertise and your willingness to represent the premium cigar industry. It is both an honor and a commitment to undergo this undertaking and it can be challenging and frustrating. Nevertheless, participating in hearings are essential functions of government relations and effective advocacy at both the state and federal levels.
Public Comment – The Script
- Who you are- (background, expertise, years of involvement with PCA/state association)
- How many stores you have- (locations and footprint of your stores (i.e., are they lounges, retail only, etc.…)
- How you started your business (Year your business opened, Year you personally became involved)
- How many employees do you have? (part-time and full-time employee breakdown, note any plans for expansion or hiring, contractors or coordinate businesses or affiliate arrangements)
- How you have been an important member of your community (charitable work and donations [not to political campaigns], first responder discounts, supporting the military, your own experiences with being a first responder or a member of the armed forces).
- Why should they care (reiteration of economic, social, and charitable impact on the community)
- Policy Specific Information (depending on the bill/law/ordinance/regulation being considered you will develop talking points) ***Please consult PCA staff and/or your state association leadership in developing this information***
Things Not to Do:
- Many times, in hearings people will mention past donations they have made to campaigns. This is illegal and cannot be mentioned. Also, special discounts/ access to private lounges for politicians can be illegal (check state laws).
- “You work for me” “I pay your salary” This is a catch all for a general bad attitude when in a hearing. Most of the time in these hearings, there will be members of the committee that seek to have your business suffer or close. It is important to keep composure and treat every member with respect. It is okay to disagree with a member and to voice your opinion. It is imperative you do it from a point of respect and with the facts on your side.
- “Stick to the script”. If the hearing is on premium cigar or pipe tobacco don’t go on a tangent about hot button current events or other advocacy or policy topics that are not related to the purpose of the hearing.
- Don’t get frazzled when speaking to policymakers. Presenting at a hearing can be intimidating especially during a live in-person session, but you are simply telling your story and supporting it with information. There is no better resource in your community on premium cigar policy than you.
- The PCA and your state association can help put you at ease and our team is willing to rehearse the hearing with you to make you more comfortable with your talking points and the flow of the hearing.
- There is no issue saying that you don’t know the answer to a question. Don’t make up information or provide answers that you can’t confirm the accuracy of the information.
- If you would like to defer a question, ask to get back to them with the information and then consult the Premium Cigar Association Government Affairs team or your state association leadership if the line of questions becomes overly technical or are referencing other legislation you may be unfamiliar with.
- Complicated lines of questions could be conducted by politicians who seek to pass legislation that harms the premium cigar industry or defeat positive legislation, and this could be their attempt to produce contradictions. Don’t fall into the trap!
Important Studies to Reference (Distinctiveness of Premium Cigars & Pipe Tobacco)
PATH (Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health)
- The NIH/FDA PATH study concluded several important aspects of usage patterns and the age in which
- Not a youth access product, the average age of a person’s first premium cigar is 30 years old.
- Not frequently used, most consumers smoke less than 2 premium cigars per month.
- National Longitudinal Mortality study (NLM)
- The PATH study also concluded that the patterns of use by the average consumer led to a negligible elevated risk for smoking related cancers and diseases.
Hearings can be intense and, in some circumstances, could become heated. It is important to stick to the facts and speak towards your small business given your unique perspective. During many of these hearings you will be representing the tobacco industry, which results in opposing witnesses at the hearing and being lumped into the category with vapor products and cigarettes. It is important to use the studies to differentiate premium cigars and pipe tobacco from other tobacco products and to address common misconceptions about premium cigars through data, research, and facts.
In addition to addressing distinctiveness, you should strive to educate policymakers about the most pressing topics in tobacco control to reinforce the distinctiveness of premium cigars and pipe tobacco such as a lack of youth access, lack of addiction, lack of public health consequences. Each hearing will be different and the topics will vary, but you should be prepared to counter opposition arguments, address tobacco control concerns, and shift the narrative from being defensive to highlighting the positives about premium cigar retailing and small businesses.
After establishing yourself as a credible authority and subject matter expert, focus on how the legislation/regulation will affect your business and your employees. This is what policy makers want to hear the most. How the legislation will affect employment numbers, your bottom line and the community (and importantly their constituents).
If you have any questions, comments or would like to get involved, please reach out to the following PCA staff for further guidance:
PCA Head of Government Affairs
PCA Director of State Affairs