LAKEVILLE, Minn. -- Around the country, 33 state legislatures are in active regular legislative sessions with many considering laws that would create new layers of regulation by restricting or prohibiting the sale of legal tobacco products, raising excise tax rates or increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco. From this list, the most predominant type of regulation affecting tobacco products and consumers at the state level are initiatives to increase the legal purchase age to buy tobacco products to age 21. Thus far in 2018, more than half of all states have seen legislation introduced or considered that would increase the legal purchase age for tobacco products.
It appears that there is momentum year over year on these initiatives—reflected by the fact that before 2017, only two states (California and Hawaii) had passed an age 21 purchasing requirement for tobacco products. In 2017, three additional state legislatures in New Jersey, Maine and Oregon passed age 21 purchase requirements for tobacco products. Although no state in 2018 has passed a purchase age increase yet, it remains to be seen what might pass in the remaining balance of the 2018 legislative sessions.
With continued regulation on the horizon at each level of government, from local city councils to state legislatures, it is crucial that retailers proactively establish a relationship with their elected officials. It is important to undertake this endeavor now so that when the time comes to fight back against legislation that could severely affect their business, retailers are not starting from square one but, rather, from a point of familiarity with their elected officials.
In an effort to continue highlighting the importance of building relationships with elected officials, below are some simple ideas to ensure a successful relationship-building process.
- Do not be intimidated: Often times it might feel intimidating to contact an elected official about a particular issue. However, although many may be viewed as professional politicians, they also have families and businesses to support and take care of. Much of the time, the closest connections retailers can create with their elected representatives revolve around similarities in everyday life, from their favorite restaurant location in the area, to where their children might attend school. To find out the names of elected officials, retailers can visit their city or state website where an “address locater” can be utilized to match a retailer’s address to the correct elected official’s contact information.
- Establish communication: One of an elected official’s primary job duties is to listen and hear from constituents about issues affecting retail stores. Retailers should feel comfortable to speak candidly with their elected officials regarding the effects that a proposed tobacco regulation would have on their businesses. One of the easiest avenues for communicating with an elected official is to send them an email. In today’s fast-paced politics, many officials are constantly checking their emails and will likely respond in a timely fashion to a constituent communication.
- Keep in touch: Upon establishing initial communications, it is important to keep in touch with elected officials. It is beneficial to stay on their radar so that when proposed legislation impacting a retailer’s business is introduced, that lawmaker might be able to reach out and solicit feedback. An email communication once or twice a month is a good starting point to keep a retailer’s elected officials updated on his or her latest business practices, such as newly hired employees, training for employees, successful fundraiser for local teams/organizations or other items that demonstrate how important the business is in the community.
At first, it might seem like a lot of effort to establish an ongoing relationship with elected officials, but in today’s political environment, it is a necessary step for successful business operators to take to ensure they a have voice in protecting their business from unnecessary regulation.
Brian Carr is deputy executive director of NATO, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, based in Lakeville, Minn.