By C. R. S. Lyles
Consumer rights advocacy has been taking on a new role these past few years.
With the economy in shambles, foreign markets scooping up the debris of American companies and the general woe and misery that has seemed to pervade the public consciousness since mid- to late-2008, it is no small comfort to see the words "cigar rights" used in a context that isn’t accompanied by a scoff.
Cigar Rights of America, led by Executive Director Glynn Loope, is at the forefront of this evolution in consumer rights — H.R. 1639 and Senate Bill 1461, their weapons of choice.
"This is the first time in the political history of the cigar industry that the cigar enthusiasts of the country, the cigar retail community, and the manufacturing community are going on offense," said Loope. "For the first time, we’re not just trying to kill legislation — legislation is being initiated to help defend the cigar business against FDA regulations."
As stated specifically in its introduction, H.R. 1639 (or more commonly referred to as the "Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2011") was drafted in order "to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to clarify the Food and Drug Administration’s jurisdiction over certain tobacco products, and to protect jobs and small businesses involved in the sale, manufacturing and distribution of traditional and premium cigars."
Or, in layman’s terms, H.R. 1639 was created in order to limit the authority that the FDA has over the regulation of tobacco (and, more specifically, cigars) and in doing so, protect the jobs of individuals currently employed at both the manufacturing and retail levels.
"President Obama signed the legislation that gave FDA sweeping regulatory authority over all tobacco products," said Loope. "Many — I was not among them — thought that the agency would be consumed with cigarettes and smokeless for the foreseeable future and into the next decade, but any time you give a federal agency regulatory authority over any product, they’re going to exercise it."
On June 22, 2009, President Obama signed into law H.R. 1256, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in order "to protect the public health by providing the Food and Drug Administration with certain authority to regulate tobacco products."
"Our opposition has done an absolutely magical job of lumping everything made out of tobacco into one big, giant, demonized basket," said Loope. "And it’s up to the cigar business to, at all levels, — from the consumer to the retailer to the manufacturer — educate the political community as to the differences."
Which lies precisely at the core of the Cigar Rights of America’s mission statement.
Cigar Rights of America was conceived of and launched in late 2008, "at the advent of the SCHIP battles in Washington," said Loope. "For the first time, cigars were placed in the political crosshairs, if you will, for new levels of taxation that were unprecedented for the cigar industry."
Those new levels of taxation were outlined in U.S. Senate S.275 (Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009) which brought the tax rate on large cigars to 52.75%, with a cap of about 40 cents per cigar.
A tough fight for cigar rights, certainly, but with the momentum that CRA and Loope have picked up in support of H.R. 1639, it’s at least shaping up to be a fair one.
"We’re working both sides of the aisle," said Loope. "Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) and Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) came together in a bi-partisan context and introduced H.R. 1639, [which] now has fifty-five sponsors in the House."
For a bill that was only introduced five months ago, that’s a pretty quick spurt of support.
"It speaks volumes when you have a piece of legislation that’s this young in Congress and it’s already picked up fifty-five sponsors in the House," said Loope. "Again, this is the first time that the industry has tried to go on the offense for a change. I think the momentum is definitely there, I think members are listening, and, most of all, I think members of Congress are being educated about the difference between a premium cigar and the other tobacco products."
Drawing that distinction, Loope said, will help distinguish premium cigars as a different class to members of Congress.
"Cigars are not addictive," Loope said. "There are no chemical additives. They are not marketed to youth. In other words, they go against the grain of every reason that FDA regulations of tobacco was passed by Congress in the first place."
In other words, it’s another no-brainer situation involving tobacco that is having to go through a very long and arduous process to secure rights which never should have been encroached on in the first place.
But, as always, we can thank our good friends at the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"People call them the ‘Body Parts Organization,’" said Loope. "They see the government’s role to be the chief babysitter to the public, and our point is that cigars are enjoyed by adults, and they’re not addictive, and they’re not marketed to children — so back off."
Though Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids made an impassioned plea for states to "implement numerous cost-effective strategies to maintain and increase their tobacco tax revenue" back in 2008, over the last nine months the citizens of these collective fifty states have sent back a different message, one that is very contradictory to the government’s perceived idea of what Americans want.
"[There's] a level of momentum that clearly never existed before," said Loope. "But the momentum is also there at the state level. This year nearly a dozen pieces of legislation were introduced at the state level, from state capitols that spanned from the state of Washington to Illinois to Boston, that were advantageous to the cigar smokers of this country. The economy had a lot to do with that, but also they were rallying against nanny-state type of legislation."
In other words, for once the people are beginning to stand up again to say "Get out of my life, I’m a grown adult, and I said that I don’t want to go to bed yet."
"We don’t need the non-profit health care community telling us how to live our lives day in and day out," said Loope. "Whether it’s enjoying a cheeseburger or a soft drink or enjoying a premium cigar, it’s not the fundamental role of government to consistently be telling us how to live our private lives, and that’s exactly what those organizations want to do. It’s time for government to get back to the fundamentals, and I never saw ‘babysitting’ in the Constitution."
And hopefully, we never will.
However, Loope did make a final reminder concerning the political responsibility of our nation’s cigar enthusiasts.
"There are thousands of cigar smokers in every congressional district in America," said Loope. "And we do want to stress that it is up to the consumer to be politically-engaged in this process. The FDA wants to stop at nothing short of prohibition, and if people don’t believe that, they’re being very naive and sadly mistaken. It’s up to the consumer to start telling their members of Congress how they want them to vote on these types of measures. For the first time, cigar enthusiasts are being encouraged to play a part in the political process."
According to the Library of Congress, H.R. 1639 has been "referred to the Subcommittee on Health" as of April 25th, 2011, but there is still much more work left to do and plenty of spots available on Team "Get the Government the Hell Out of My Life".
"Everybody who’s passionate about a great cigar can play a part to sign our petition that’s online that tells their member of Congress specifically — and the appropriate subcommittees — how they feel about these bills," said Loope. "There are clearly glimmers of hope out there that we have not had in this industry for nearly a decade."
If you wish to learn more about Cigar Rights of America, H.R. 1639, or if you would like to sign CRA’s petition, head to cigarrights.org.
"We just want to encourage everybody who’s reading this to play a part, sign the petition, send your message, call your respective member of Congress, and help us get this legislation put through the House and Senate," said Loope.
As Alan Moore once wrote, "People shouldn’t be afraid of their government — governments should be afraid of their people."
The momentum that is growing in support of consumer rights and putting a limit on federal regulations is proving very clearly that the government doesn’t know its people as well as it thought it did, and with the introduction and rapid growth of support for state-level legislation and House bills such as H.R. 1639, a new message is being broadcasted to the babysitters, a message which tells the nanny-state policy makers simply this:
"Be afraid. Be very afraid."
|Carter R. Lyles is a student at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL and at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He is a journalism/psychology major, and in addition to his work at Cigar Chronicles, he has contributed articles to PipesMagazine.com, The Alligator, Thursday Night Magazine, andThe Fine Print.|