C-Store CEOs Team Up Over Tobacco Regulation

Ask Cornyn to reconsider legislation

DALLAS -- Five convenience store CEOs recently went to Dallas to ask Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to reconsider his proposal to allow the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco, reported

The senator is sponsoring a bill that would give the FDA broad authority to regulate tobacco, and the c-store CEOs are worried about giving a distant federal bureaucracy the ability to possibly shutter their stores, the report said.

Cornyn said he would try to address the store owners' concerns, 7-Eleven lobbyist [image-nocss] Ronnie Volkening, who also attended the meeting, told the website.

A former Texas attorney general and state Supreme Court justice, Cornyn was actively processing everything we were saying and sincerely lookingto make it more fair, Volkening said. That's all you can ask.

Supporters of such regulation may be in the best position to win since they began their push more than a decade ago, the report said. Democrats control a Congress where advocates have signed up nearly half of the House and more than two-thirds of the Senate as bill co-sponsors, it said.

Still, opponents also have deep pockets and lobbyists capable of blocking momentum, it added.

The bill would allow the FDA to regulate the ingredients of tobacco products and would require larger warning labels and would limit some advertising to text only.

A coalition of national public health and anti-smoking groups has teamed up to combine their volunteer networks and resources to run a major media, lobbying and grassroots campaign. Even Philip Morris USA supports the legislation. Rivals say the proposed advertising restrictions would limit competition and cement PM USA's position as the nation's dominant cigarette manufacturer. And some believe PM USA is using reverse psychology, in hopes that its support raises questions about the bill's effectiveness, said the report.

As passed by the Senate health committee, the bill would require cigarette manufacturers to print a warning on cigarettes that takes up at least half the pack.

The cancer society has at least four lobbyists and up to eight support staffers pushing the bill, said. The organization has also been running full-page ads in two Capitol Hill publications regularly since March. In August, the group ran ads that targeted lawmakers in seven states and urged constituents to contact legislators through a toll-free number.

John Singleton, spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s parent, Reynolds American, said there's not much grassroots action to organize, but the company is working Capitol Hill. He and Andy Zausner, a lobbyist for Lorillard Tobacco Co., argue the bill would restrict advertising and effectively hobble their companies' ability to compete. It would limit much of tobacco advertising to black-and-white printno pictures, cartoons or other eyecatchers, according to the report.

In every country that has banned cigarette advertising, the country's dominant brand's market share has increased, Zausner said.

Singleton and Zausner question whether the FDA can handle more responsibility. Zausner is betting the legislation will get sidelined this fall in favor of bigger issues, the report said. But if it doesn't, Lorillard is willing to spend whatever it takes to kill the bill, he told the website.

The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is also working to ensure the FDA would not have regulatory authority over the nation's 300,000 tobacco retailers. Store owners argue that state enforcement is working, and a provision that would allow the FDA to order a store to stop selling tobacco has store owners worried. It's a death sentence, and that order should be reserved for retailers that are not training their employees and doing everything they can to comply with state tobacco laws, NACS lobbyist Lyle Beckwith told

If lawmakers want to strengthen regulations, they should leave the enforcement up to the states, said Volkening. Tobacco regulation should mirror environmental protection, he said. If states don't enforce federal environmental law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) steps in.

Store owners would also like to see tobacco sales over the Internet and on Native American reservations subject to the same regulations as in-store sales, he added.

NACS, which represents the industry's 130,000 stores, has nine lobbyists working the bill, Beckwith said. In the past six months, the team has had 60 meetings with lawmakers.

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