Tobacco

Retailers Face Hurdles Fighting Local Regulation

Channel lacks ‘natural alliances,’ strategist says

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Retailers concerned about emerging laws and ordinances that may negatively affect their businesses—especially related to the core category of tobacco—will likely find the opposition has a leg up, according to a workshop speaker at CSP’s recent Convenience Retailing University (CRU) conference in Glendale, Ariz.

Anti-tobacco organizations that receive funding to lobby for proposals such as flavored-tobacco bans or higher taxes have “natural bridges and alliances” with local health departments and schools, a ready network that retailers don’t have access to, according to Joseph Kefauver, managing partner of Align Public Strategies, Orlando, Fla.

Kefauver is a brand and image strategist who has worked with legislators, businesses and community groups. While writing speeches for a city official, he said, he knew for certain that the official had no idea who the big convenience-chain owners were. That’s a problem when lawmakers start talking about taxes, Kefauver said. And with more state budgets projecting shortfalls, “tobacco is ripe and potentially an easy target,” he said.

Even the Republican Party, traditionally known for being pro-business, has changed, he said. “It’s a politically interesting time for tobacco,” Kefauver said. “The Republican party doesn’t even have the nexus of suppliers and allies to protect agriculture or the retail side.”

When suggesting courses of action, Kefauver said the structure of state and local advocacy built around trade associations needs to be reinvented so resources can be used to better address communication and organizational holes in the system. As an example, he recalled working with a restaurant association in New Mexico to build a jobs-training program within one community. The local mayor applauded the effort.

Kefauver said c-stores have a strong argument to make in the areas of jobs and responsible retailing. That's where “retailers can move the needle,” he said, and a basis from which they can underscore their value to a community.

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