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Stogie Commentary: Fighting the Good Fight

1 Oct 2007

I’ve been frustrated in recent months watching the failed efforts to combat the higher cigar taxes that are part of the proposed State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) expansion. I have no connection to the cigar industry — other than enjoying its products — and I don’t claim to have observed everything that occurred. But I do have a little knowledge about how Congress works, and it often appeared to me that tobacco’s resistance was not as effective as it could have been.

Cigar TaxSo, I thought I’d offer my suggestions for the future.

1. First, and foremost, get a godfather. The cigar industry needs someone to watch over it and take up its interests the way Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) guards the vitamin/supplement industry or Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) takes care of Wall Street. Lacking a powerful, savvy ally who is committed to your view is like being in a hatchet fight without a hatchet.

2. Concentrate on the tax. Much of the recent discussion about the cigar tax actually veered off into whether the concept of SCHIP is good or bad. Forget that. Don’t get drawn into politics. As you hear in DC almost every day, “Stick to your knitting.” For the cigar industry, the issue is the size of the cigar tax, not what it would be spent on. Let others argue about policy. Remember, when you’re counting votes, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only “yeas” and “nays.”

3. Don’t encourage Astroturf campaigns. If there’s one thing legislators know, it’s communication. Most ignore form letter communications, whether via email or fax, so constituents must make their voices heard individually by communicating their own points in their own emails, phone calls, faxes, and letters. Personal, grassroots efforts can be effective. Astroturf is not.

4. Be realistic. There is a large, powerful, not-very-reasonable anti-smoking movement out there. Cigar smokers are a small group. Recognize those facts and deal with them, rather than complain. In my opinion, some tax increase is inevitable. I’d suggest working to keep it as small as possible and trying to get other things you want along with it.

5. Increase congressional awareness. Organize congressional trips to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Honduras so lawmakers can see the plants, talk to workers, and get a feel for the economic impact of cigars in those nations. Back home, make sure every representative and senator knows all about the jobs related to cigars. And not just in shops and in Florida, but with operations like Finck in Texas, National in Indiana, tobacco farmers in Connecticut, etc.

6. Spend wisely. I’m not inclined to tell others how to spend their money. But I would suggest that employing lobbying and PR firms intimately identified with the GOP might not be the wisest course when both houses of Congress are now controlled by Democrats.

7. Stay alert. Getting surprised by a tax proposal shouldn’t happen. The best time to have an impact is before anything is committed to paper, so stay on top of it every day.

George E

Tags: cigars

12 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: Fighting the Good Fight”

  1. Patrick S Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 10:26 am #

    As someone who watches politics professionally I just wanted to add my 2 cents to George's excellent commentary.

    In addition to everything that George said, one of the problems I saw in this legislative battle is that the cigar industry and their allies have relied too much on Bush's veto threat instead of fighting the tax now. In the future (without a veto threat from the White House) this battle will loom large as there are now large majorities on the record in favor of the massive tax increase.

  2. GeorgeH Monday, October 1, 2007 at 7:13 am #

    As for finding a champion in Congress, who smokes cigars and isn’t worried about letting the voters know? In the House, Howard Coble (R-NC) is a serious cigar smoker. Smokes in his ofice much to the dismay of some collegues. Who else is there?

  3. John Monday, October 1, 2007 at 10:53 am #

    Fred Thompson, Arnold, and some guy named Clinton liked doing certain things with cigars…

    Problem is, smoking is too non PC for most politicians to flaunt publicly or assume the role of the aforementioned godfather. And frankly, the number of cigar smokers nationally is such a tiny percentage of the population that even the most organized anti-cigar tax campaign will have minimal effect on politicans. The numbers just aren’t there. The key to surviving the SCHIP legislation is to seperate cigars from cigarettes. The bill was designed to make the cigarette industry pay for the increased entitlement but cigars just got swept along with it. All we need is a cigar exemption.

  4. George E Monday, October 1, 2007 at 11:22 am #

    Patrick S. is exactly right. Counting on a veto is poor, poor strategy. And John, you’re correct as well. I wrote as much back in July:

    Separating cigars from cigarettes is, indeed, essential. But that’s not all. You also need to segregate hand-made cigars from machine mades, which are the ones with appeal to young people and which generate much of the negative reaction As I said, the key is for the industry to work constantly and effectively at the front end to prevent massive and onerous proposals from getting written into bills.

  5. timothy fitzgerald Monday, October 1, 2007 at 6:32 pm #

    great commentary a lot or points right on the mark. also think that the manufactures sat back for too long doing nothing. not having a group of them or all of them to fight before this got this far is scary. not having a loobyist to fight for them is insane in todays world.

  6. furious Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 8:34 am #

    It is simply a matter of dollars and cents here. The cigarette industry has the greenbacks and political clout that said dollars can buy. The cigar industry, by comparison, is much smaller and more fragmented, and does not have the funds to buy the lobbyists that help to secure political power and influence. Unfortunately for us lovers of the leaf, we are forced to sit idly by and watch this disgusting charade play out.

  7. George E Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 9:52 am #

    While I’d never underestimate the power of money, it is not the only factor. If it were, the cigarette industry would have been much more successful than it has been over the past 20 years or so, and Wall Street probably would have been able to privatize Social Security. There are many examples of industries that are not giants but exert considerable clout by being highly organized, expert at cultivating support and spending wisely.

  8. George E Wednesday, October 3, 2007 at 7:24 am #

    Thanks, Ricky. I only hope that now, with the bill vetoed and negotiations on the program likely to start again soon, the cigar industry will work to achieve more as the next proposal is worked out.

  9. Ricky Wednesday, October 3, 2007 at 10:40 am #

    Excellent post! You hit the nail on the head, George.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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