By C. R. S. Lyles
"If the FDA succeeds in regulating premium cigars, it will essentially put 85,000 Americans out of work."

The above quote is taken from Chief Executive Officer of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, Bill Spann, who, along with the IPCPR, is taking the tobacco argument to the federal level, continuing the work started by legislation such as H.R. 1639 (the "Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Preservation Act of 2011"), and other organizations, such as the Cigar Rights of America.

"We [IPCPR] are the leading trade association for the premium hand-made cigar and tobacco industry," Spann said. "We’re dedicated to protecting the interests of our members by providing information, services, support, and legislative action."

Originally founded as the RTDA in 1933, the IPCPR is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association which "provides its members with assistance to fight draconian and onerous tobacco legislation, and brings retailers and manufacturers together in mutually advantageous business relationships."

"We represent about 1,400 small business owners operating about 2,000 retail premium cigar and tobacco stores across America," Spann said. "We also represent 300 or so manufacturers of related products, like hand-made cigars, humidors, cutters, lighters, pipes, pipe tobacco, etc…"

 



Bill Spann, CEO - IPCPR

Bill Spann, CEO – IPCPR

And those customers are exactly who IPCPR has in mind when it makes the statement that the current FDA regulations have the capacity to put 85,000 Americans out of work, a number which Spann said was based on the findings of an outside economist.

"It’s based on the amount of tobacco leaf that’s imported, either in a finished form as a cigar, or in leaf form, to be manufactured here," Spann said. "We extrapolated from that with applied economics and came to a very conservative, but accurate number, which is about 85,000."

Even more of a reason to combat the sweeping authority the FDA was granted under the "Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009" (H.R. 1256.)

"This is job one, as one of our favorite manufacturers says," Spann said. "We’re working on federal legislation that would exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation, and it’s critical for the entire premium cigar industry, both retailers and manufacturers, to get involved."

In addition to the federal work being done both by this trade association and other groups fighting for the rights of tobacco, there is also legislation being drafted at the local and state levels.

"There’s quite a bit at the local level," Spann said. "For instance, if you go on our website and click on the newsroom, you’ll see all of our recent releases regarding smoking bans in [several states and counties]."

Some examples of these bans include:

  • Alexandria, Louisiana
  • Denton, Texas
  • Macon, Georgia
  • Boise, Idaho
  • Orlando, Florida
  • St. Louis, Missouri

"It’s a constant battle against the prohibitionists," Spann said.

Which is where much of the work done by IPCPR comes into play.

The International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association updates its members regularly on legislative activities, products and discounts, news and information, and marketing information.

"We provide a great deal of communication information," Spann said. "If something happens with the FDA or something happens in the industry, you’re going to hear about it from IPCPR first."

But more than information, IPCPR provides the means to combat government restrictions.

"We fight for your rights legislatively," Spann said. "We dedicate a tremendous amount of resources to protect our members from regressive, anti-tobacco legislation, such as proposed state-wide and local smoking prohibitions, proposed OTP (other tobacco products) excise tax increases, product and sales restrictions — basically, any regressive tobacco-related legislation."

That protection, Spann said, helps to ensure the survival of the true tobacconists, as opposed to the image of the filthy-rich fat cats who the anti-tobacco coalitions have done their best to equate with tobacco.

"Our members are salt of the earth Americans," Spann said. "They’re not making a ton of money, they’re average citizens, they pay taxes, they contribute to the local economy (both in charitable donations and in payroll and property taxes.)"

Additionally, Spann had a dire prediction regarding the future of anti-tobacco legislation and how it truly affects the people it is imposed upon.

"If you want to legislate people out of business, you’re going to lose all that revenue and you’re going to get the double hit because all the people that used to have paying jobs now go on unemployment, possibly go on welfare, so it’s a double hit to the economy," Spann said. "You’re going to lose jobs, and then you’re going to have people drawing off of public programs to subsist. I don’t see the logic in today’s difficult economic times of even considering that."

Because the truth is, the average tobacconist is not the economically-elite, smooth-talking charlatan that the anti-tobacco crusade has made those in that position out to be.

"Many of our members (in fact, the vast majority) are family-owned businesses, some that span several generations," Spann said. "We have them across all 50 states, and we actually have several dozen around the world as well."

And that international appeal has helped to give credence to the IPCPR’s argument, as well as allowed them to put on the largest annual premium tobacco show in the world, the IPCPR Annual Convention & International Trade Show.

"It’s about 300,000 square feet," Spann said. "We get about 6,000 members and about 250 to 300 exhibitors of premium cigars, pipes, pipe tobacco, tobacco-related accessories, etc… Those exhibitors come from all over the world, including Central America, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean basin, which is the majority region for premium cigars."

But all of this pales in comparison to the sharp reality that is facing the tobacconists of the country, a reality that not only validates the IPCPR’s existence, but makes trade associations like them pivotal in ensuring the continued freedom of average Americans.

"Eighty-five thousand Americans across the country make their living in premium tobacco stores," Spann said. "This is not so much about tobacco as it is about individual rights. [It’s being] tired of the nanny state, the federal government telling adults of legal age where or what they can do with a legal product. Conversely, the small business men and women who make their living in these mom and pop stores across the nation have an absolute inviolate American right to sell a legal product at a fair profit."

Which brings us back to the real issue at stake, more so than just a vapid, echoing cry of slights against personal freedoms. The real issue is jobs, and the reality of ensuring the continued freedom of average Americans is linked into that so intrinsically that by creating laws that hinder the sale of tobacco, the FDA, President Obama, and the remainder of the anti-tobacco crusade have effectively told tobacconists of this country "We don’t care."

"This is about jobs," Spann said. "And it’s about rights." Making IPCPR one of the only organizations standing in between approximately 85,000 Americans and unemployment.

 

Carter R. LylesCarter 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.

 

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