Local, Local, Local

For tobacco regulations, check your home town

Published in Tobacco E-News

By  Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

LAS VEGAS -- A tapestry of proposed tobacco restrictions are draping communities across the country at a feverish pace.

Dozens of proposed ordinances--from banning tobacco displays in New York City to banning the sale of electronic cigarettes in remote Rock County, Minn.--are under consideration throughout local townships, small cities, counties and states as governments of all sizes struggle to plug budget shortfalls and eye tobacco as their panacea.

"There is a general lack of awareness on the part of our folks about the potential impact local regulations can have on our industry," said veteran NATO legislative consultant Tim McKinney.

McKinney was speaking at the NATO Show, the annual event that brings together throngs of tobacco vendors and their retail counterparts in the convenience store and tobacco shop sectors. He was joined by Jacqueline Cohen, president of the Wahington-based consulting firm GR Squared, which the trade association contracts to track state and federal legislation and regulation.

In their session, On the Front Line of Advocacy, both McKinney and Cohen exhorted operators to take an active role in educating local and state lawmakers about the deleterious impact further tobacco restrictions would yield on businesses. McKinney outlined the range of proposals being considered in various communities: raising the minimum legal age from 18 to 19 or even 21; requiring minimum packs of four cigars, thereby eliminating many popular flavored lines frequently sold in singles or smaller packages; state measures (notably Oregon) that would empower counties to impose new tobacco taxes.

"Local governments are strapped for cash, so what's the easiest way to fix that?" McKinney asked rhetorically. The more than 50 operators in attendance nodded knowingly.

The federal government isn't much better. Ironically, said Cohen, today's hyper-partisanship may indirectly be benefitting tobacco operators. "As we know, Washington is totally dysfunctional, and it's probably a good thing that nothing is going on."  

She noted President Obama's recent proposal to hike the federal excise tax across tobacco segments, reminding that it is but one of many proposals in the President's budget that still must work its way through both the Senate and the Republican-controlled House.

That said, Cohen warned retailers not to only react, but to proactively engage their local legislative bodies. Quoting President Lyndon Johnson, a renowned master of inside politics and deal-making, Cohen said, "The best time to make friends is before you need them."

By Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor
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