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Tobacco

Tobacco Lobbyist Shares Experiences Dealing With Lawmakers

Building trust, credibility remains critical in swaying minds

CHICAGO-- On the subject of retailers struggling with how to publicly support the legal and responsible sale of tobacco products, attendees at a recent CSP forum heard insights from a tobacco lobbyist, who agreed that his job isn’t easy.

“If you wanted to wear a white hat, you’d lobby for the Red Cross,” said Greg Means, co-founder of and lobbyist for The Alpine Group, Washington, D.C.

Acknowledging that retailers may find themselves in the same situation of dealing with local council members and decision-makers who may not agree with the legal sale of tobacco products, Means said that often the best strategy is to forego spending time with people who will never agree with retailers and to put more effort into those lawmakers and law enforcers who are more open-minded.

He said he doesn’t take the job personally and goes into the challenge knowing that some lawmakers won’t see his side of the story. “There are people who are ... ‘Not over my dead body,’ ” he said. “The middle is where it happens. And people are going to say yes.”

Despite his typical uphill battle, the best attributes that a lobbyist—and retailers trying to sway the minds of lawmakers—can bring to the table are trust, honesty and credibility, he told about 60 attendees at the CSP Behind the Counter Forum in August in Chicago, saying he viewed his job as that of a salesperson and educator.

“What do we make? Where are we located?” he said, offering additional advice to attendees as they approach lawmakers. “We tell them that we pay taxes, we have employees in your district.”

Means also commented on a couple of topics currently in the news: new-product approvals and the Republican Party’s stance on tobacco products. In terms of new-product approvals going forward, Means said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is essentially tying the hands of manufacturers by setting up a long and arduous process. Like many government agencies, the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has become a bureaucracy that takes its time. “You can’t get issues addressed; you can’t get an answer,” Means said, expressing a degree of frustration. “Tell us no. I can navigate no. I can’t fix a maybe.”

When asked about how Republicans are responding to tobacco regulation, Means said the topic is low on the party’s radar. “They’ve been focused on Obamacare,” he said.

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