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Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Hard Truth

Rostros Anonadado (Bewildered/Stunned Faces) by Eduardo ExpĆ³sito

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?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Einstein Smoked!

Yes, it’s true, Einstein smoked: pipes and cigars.

Albert Einstein’s contributions to modern science are so extraordinary that it may take  generations and hundreds of years for science to catch up with his theories on space, time, gravity, light, physics, etc…  Ironically, Einstein had speech problems as a child and was probably missing portions of his brain, while other parts seem to have ‘compensated’ and given him extraordinary thinking, visualization, and conceptualization abilities.   In fact, we are all a little bit like Albert Einstein in that our brains have different strengths and weaknesses and there are many different ways to be ’smart’.  Intelligence takes on many different forms and varietals.

Albert Einstein, Berlin, Germany 1931.  Photo from Fortune Magazine March 6, 2000.

Albert Einstein claimed that he thought through images, rather than verbally.  That is why he spent much of his time ruminating, meditating, thinking, and walking the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton University, with a pipe or cigar in hand, of course.

As the proprietor of the retail tobacconist in Princeton, NJ, I like to think that Albert Einstein would be a customer if he were around today.  After all, many of Princeton’s esteemed intellectuals and luminaries are my customers, and they love their luxury tobacco.   But this is not just a ‘puff’ piece about smart people smoking tobacco.  Luxury tobacco is something we use out of choice, not addiction.  Furthermore, we smoke great cigars and pipe tobaccos to savor our time, ruminate, decompress, gather our thoughts and emotions, and revitalize ourselves, among other reasons.
Just as our ‘brains’ are different, so are the things that bring us pleasure, happiness, joy, and peace.   America’s founding fathers recognized the inherent importance of individualism and freedom, so they anchored our country’s constitution and values on the ‘individual pursuit of happiness’ and human freedom.  For better or worse, good, bad or indifferent, human beings must be free to choose their own destiny and guide their own lives.

What would Albert Einstein think about S-CHIP, FDA tobacco regulation, extreme tobacco taxation, smoker demonization, smoking bans, and tobacco denormalization?   Where would civilization be without Albert Einstein’s genius?  Who or what power has the legitimate authority to tell him (or us) how to think? What to enjoy?  After all, we hold the truth of human freedom and equality to be self-evident.

The greatest tragedy to result from smokerism and anti-smoking laws will never be known.  The greatest cost from impeding human freedom is the opportunity cost: those things, ideas, moments, realizations, and appreciations that will never exist, because the opportunity was lost.  But these losses, while intangible, are as real as light, gravity, and time.  Ultimately, every law that restricts individual freedom and choice retards our culture and undermines real progress and quality of life.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our Vision

To build and project the credibility of the luxury tobacco industry in order to gain cultural acceptance around the world – preserving luxury tobacco for generations to come.
We have just finished  re-crafting our Vision to better communicate the long-term goals of Tobacconist University.   While our Mission is tailored to serve tobacconists and consumers, our broadest goal is to help preserve our industry for generations to come.  And the last decade has proven how difficult the challenges we face really are.  Legislation, taxation, smoking bans, and tobacco de-normalization have moved forward at an astounding rate because the culture we live in has turned against us.  Clearly, these are not the ‘glory’ years of the mid-1990s when Cigar Aficionado glamorized cigar smoking; those customers are long gone or ‘in the closet’ smokers today.
While the IPCPR and CRA battle on the economic and political fronts, there is much more to accomplish in order to sustain our industry.  Cigar and pipe smokers comprise a mere 5% of the population, so we must build and promote our credibility outward, into the society we live in, to survive.   If you don’t believe that, just think of what the last ten years have brought, and then consider the next ten years…

“We now stand upon the brink of a precipice from whence the smallest help plunges us headlong.” – Gen. George Washington
TU and our industry need your help to change the culture.  Get Educated!  Get Certified!  And participate with TU in making a substantive difference!