NATO: Tobacco Retailer's Best Ally

Andrew Kerstein, President

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Now in its 13th year, NATO has become known as a critically important ally for tobacco stores, convenience stores, service stations, grocery stores and even liquor stores. The retail members of NATO that operate more than 27,000 retail stores understand that the association focuses all of its efforts and resources on protecting the right to sell legal tobacco products.

Because NATO is the only national retail trade association that specializes exclusively in tobacco-related issues, there is no better ally for a tobacco retailer. In fact, NATO has become a key partner for retailers because of the association’s legislative efforts on local, state and federal tobacco legislation and the organization’s expertise on FDA retail tobacco regulations.

Local Efforts

When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2009 to stimulate the economy, the tobacco industry was confronted with responding to $142 million in federal stimulus grants to states, counties and cities that sought to enact restrictions on tobacco products. These grants were first given out in 2010 and then extended through 2015 under the Affordable Care Act (the Obamacare health insurance law).

In response to this federal grant program, NATO launched a national project to help retailers oppose these local tobacco ordinances, and this effort has continued into 2013. NATO responded to more than 50 local ordinances last year, with positive outcomes on 66% of the proposed local restrictions. With the federal grant program continuing to fund local ordinance efforts, the NATO local project will undoubtedly respond to an increasing number of tobacco ordinances in 2013 and subsequent years. Also, as a part of the NATO local project, the association has taken the next step and sued cities to protect a retailer’s right to sell legal tobacco products. For example, NATO was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that overturned an in-store tobacco advertising ban adopted by the City of Worcester, Mass. In addition, NATO is a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit that seeks to strike down two ordinances adopted by the City of Providence, R.I., to prohibit a retailer from redeeming tobacco product coupons and banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products. (For more, see story on p. 9.)

Federal Concerns

Moving from the local level to the state legislative level, NATO monitors bill sin state legislatures that would increase cigarette and tobacco taxes, prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, restrict smoking in public and private establishments, and impose display restrictions in retail stores. In addition to its monitoring function, NATO alerts retail members to these legislative bill sand assist them in becoming involved in the legislative process.

With regard to the FDA’s authority to regulate tobacco products, NATO has a significant level of expertise on FDA retail tobacco rules and regulations. This expertise is used to submit comments to proposed regulations to help ensure that such regulations are both reasonable and workable from a retail point of view. Perhaps even more important is the ability of NATO to respond to retailer’s questions about what an FDA tobacco regulation means and how to comply with federal rules on tobacco products. In short, retail members have found NATO to be an invaluable resource when it comes to FDA tobacco regulations.

News to Use

Finally, retailers look to NATO as an ally because the association provides a continuous stream of up-to-date information on local, state and federal tobacco issues through the NATO News bulletin. Whatever retailers need to know about current tobacco legislation and regulations can be found in the NATO News.

Being a tobacco retailer can be a daunting task because of local and state legislation and complying with federal tobacco regulations. The good news is that NATO is the best ally a retailer can have on its side to meet the everyday challenges of selling legal tobacco products in a heavily taxed and regulated marketplace. Retailers can learn more about NATO and the value of membership by visiting

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