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Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Hard Truth

Rostros Anonadado (Bewildered/Stunned Faces) by Eduardo Expósito

As a retail tobacconist, I can unequivocally state that the last ten years have been difficult (dramatic understatement).  The challenges we face are unlike any other business persons’ or industry (i.e. FDA, S-CHIP, OTP, smoking-bans, tobacco de-normalization, etc…).  And, if you think the last ten years have been bad… what do you think the next ten will be like?
If we don’t make dramatic changes to our industry and culture, our future will be exponentially worse!  This is the hard truth.  While marketers, manufacturers, salespeople, and retailers tell you ‘business is good’, that is either a lie or tunnel vision.  Business people must ’spin’ positivity because negativity does not improve sales.  But, just because you make money this year does not mean ‘business is good’.  A viable industry/business-model needs to be sustainable; we must be able to plan ahead for things like retirements, recessions, childrens’ educations, growth, asset preservation, business sales, etc…

One of the worst trends that has infected our industry and political climate is the ‘grandfathering’ of existing tobacconists and cigar bars without allowing the creation of new ones.  Yet, whenever these laws pass, our industry claims a victory because we preserved a ‘business’.  But we also put a nail in our coffin if no one can open a new business!

Yet another sad sign that we are in trouble is the inconspicuous nature of our customers.  One of my oldest and dearest friends/customers who has a passion for cigars hides this from his own children; he takes a ‘fabreeze’ shower before going home and swears to his kids that he does not ’smoke’.  Partly, this is because children are thoroughly indoctrinated in school that ’smoking kills’ and they do not distinguish between types and frequency of tobacco use.  On a similar note, I am still irate, years after a policeman went to my little sister’s school, in full uniform with a badge and gun, and gave an hour long lecture about how ’smoking kills’ – still no distinguishing between types of smoking and the value of human freedom and personal choice.  Plus, what is a policeman doing lecturing kids about smoking?

So, without writing a book here…. I would like to end on a positive note… since I have devoted myself and resources to the preservation of the luxury tobacco industry and retail tobacconists.  I am not a negativist!  Our path to salvation will not be easy.  First, we must join and support the CRA in order to fight the short term battles and legislative momentum.  Next, we must get Certified, and project our credibility!!!  But, when we say ‘project our credibility’, we do not mean sit around with other cigar/pipe smokers and talk about how good or knowledgeable we are!  Projecting our credibility is about making non-smokers, friends and family, and the society we live in understand and RESPECT our profession, passions and choices!  Make converts out of non-aficionados!  If every cigar and pipe smoker convinced 10 people to respect our rights, then we would still have our rights!
Final Note:  Part of the TU Mission is to “research, learn, and teach in order to educate …”  and our Vision is to “build and project the credibility of the luxury tobacco industry in order to gain cultural acceptance around the world…”  With that said, we are not beholden to any person or business.  We are an independent educational institution with a clear mandate to speak the truth: the truth as we see it - not the ‘truth’ as devised or spun by marketers or business people.  We receive no money from the IPCPR or any other industry trade or political organization.  You can rest assured that TU will continue to research, learn, and teach while delivering the truth and working to build the credibility we will need to survive… for generations to come.  Ultimately, we will only be successful if you and the rest of the industry participate.  So, what are you doing to ensure the survival of the luxury tobacco industry?

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