Opinion: Why Retailers Should Join the Fight

Published in CSP Daily News

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

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In peewee football, we’re taught that defense wins the game. And while the Seattle Seahawks certainly proved this adage true with their 43-8 Super Bowl whuppin’ of the Denver Broncos, an old military saying might be more apt to the challenges currently facing retailers: Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

It’s something the late Bill Greiwe of Cheyenne Tobacco spoke about at CSP’s Tobacco Category Review Meeting last August. On issues of public policy, both tobacco manufacturers and retailers have been too hesitant to speak up, often waiting too long to build a proper defense, much less a good offense.

These sentiments were echoed by Michael Cellucci, president of Miamibased Drew Estates, and other panelists at Smoker Friendly’s 2013 tobacco conference. “[Regulators are] going to take as much as they possibly can,” Cellucci said. “The stronger our fight is, as an industry, the more we can educate them.”

Last year, our CSP vice president and group editor, Mitch Morrison, called for the FDA to take action and resolve a slew of unanswered questions. For the most part, that hasn’t happened.

This year, I’m calling for retailers to take action. Don’t wait for the FDA— go on the offensive before it’s too late to build a solid defense. After all, antitobacco groups aren’t waiting on the FDA to provide clarity.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with New York City’s e-cig ban. As a resident of the ultimate nanny state, I’ve been treated to a bombardment of press on how electronic cigarettes are targeting our children and why we cannot wait for the FDA to handle this so-called threat. Indeed, it’s been rumored that the New York City Council rescheduled the vote on multiple occasions, hoping that the FDA would announce its proposed e-cig regulations and NYC would rewrite its own legislation to mirror that.

But the clock ran out (at least the clock that would allow departing Mayor Michael Bloomberg to leave one last anti-tobacco legacy). And e-cig retailers and consumers in New York City will now pay the price.

My fiancé would argue that my job has made me a little more pro-e-cig than the average gal. However, recent polls show I’m not alone in my support. A February survey by Harris Interactive found 63% of participants would not object to someone using an electronic cigarette in close proximity. (Twenty-five percent said they would.)

I would also suggest that “we” have science on our side: Some of the most vocal support of electronic cigarettes has come from medical professionals. Brad Rodu, the Endowed Chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction Research at the University of Louisville, and Michael Siegel, who testified against Big Tobacco in Engle v. Liggett, both author pro-e-cig blogs. Jean-Francois Etter, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and Scott Ballin, a tobacco and health policy consultant who has worked with the American Heart Association, both spoke in favor of the segment at Wells Fargo’s November E-Cig Forum. Even Richard Carmona—who supported a ban on all tobacco products during his time as U.S. Surgeon General—has come out in support of e-cigs, joining NJOY’s board of directors and advising the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company on public health and regulatory issues.

Think of how impressive the e-cig offensive could be if retailers wholeheartedly joined these men of science in the fight.

After all, teaming up with powerful voices has already benefited retailers in another segment of tobacco. Cigar Rights of America and other retail groups recruited Republicans and Democrats alike on the issue of premium cigars, with both Congress and the Senate encouraging the FDA to exempt these products from future deeming regulations.

This offensive strategy appears to have helped premium cigars gain ground with the FDA. Just turn to Kelly Kurt’s story on p. 39, in which Mitch Zeller acknowledges there “may be a difference” with premium cigars when it comes to regulation.

While the fight for premium cigars, electronic cigarettes and any number of tobacco-related issues is far from over—and sure to be long and tedious—the time has come for tobacco retailers and manufacturers to stand up for their rights.

Let’s play some offense.

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