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Commentary: Helping to Light a Fire (Part II)

14 Feb 2013



[See yesterday's article for Part I of this two-part series discussing what you can do to stop anti-cigar legislation in your state.]

The first step in combating more smoking restrictions in your state, or supporting changes in existing ones, is to know what’s going on. That’s not always easy, though you can stay informed with a little effort.

Few newspapers today cover legislatures with the depth they once did. Local TV reports are usually limited to top agenda items. But you can keep up with minimal effort. I’ve got two suggestions. If you Google your state name, legislature, 2013, and tobacco once a week or so, you’ll probably learn what’s up. Another way is to spend a little time online to find an active anti-tobacco group in your state and get on their email list. These people are dedicated, financed, and resourceful. They work hard to drum up support, and rarely miss anything.

If you see that a bill has been introduced, you’ll want to find pertinent details: which chamber, the bill number, who introduced it, and whether it’s been assigned to a committee.

With the bill number, you should be able to locate the text, though deciphering it can be a trick. If it’s unclear and you can’t find an explanation online, call the sponsor’s office. Or check with that anti-smoking group because they’ll almost certainly know.

Armed with that information, contact your state representative and/or senator to let them know how you feel about the bill. In many states, it’s pretty easy to get in touch directly, but email can also be effective.

If it’s a particularly important or contentious issue, try to get your local shop to invite the solon for a meet-and-greet.

However you go about it, there are several things that I think will enhance the likelihood of success, regardless of the format.

Emphasize your concern is about adults smoking cigars. Many people know nothing about cigars; heck, these days, you almost never even see anybody smoking one. Make sure they know you’re talking about the craft of handmade cigars, not “Big Tobacco” or drug store sticks.

Focus on cigars. As far as I’m concerned, the cigarette battle is over, (and, yes, I know all about Niemöller’s statement) but I believe there’s still a chance for premium cigars to carve out a separate position. Most legislation is written with cigarettes primarily in mind, so you can often find an opening for premium cigars.

Push the small business aspect of cigars and cigar shops. These days, it’s a sacred cow, and one politicians are loathe to ignore. It’s also great fodder for local newspapers and TV stations. Get in touch with their assignment desks and suggest that they can find a good story in the area’s potentially endangered cigar shops.

If you’re at a public meeting, be prepared for strong pushback. Here’s an example of the kind of specific attacks you can expect. Arm yourself with strong, specific data, which is readily available.

Don’t mount a soapbox about your rights. Despite the tobacco leaves adorning the U.S. Capitol, there’s no constitutional right to smoke. At best you’ll end up in an unproductive argument. At worst, you’ll alienate potential supporters. Whatever the circumstances, stay calm, polite, and professional.

If you want assistance or feel better being part of a group, check into Cigar Rights of America.

I hope all this gets you enthused and willing to fight the good fight because that’s what is necessary if we’re going to continue to enjoy cigars. I welcome any feedback, and if you have questions leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply.

-George E

photo credit: N/A

Drew Estate