Tobacconist University
Get Certified    |    Campus Store    |    R&D Lab    |    FAQs

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

An Important Message From The IPCPR CEO

The 83rd Annual IPCPR Convention & International Trade Show in New Orleans, July 17-21, 2015 will mark my first year as the CEO of the IPCPR.  And what a year it has been!  The threat of FDA regulation, never ending state tax and smoking ban threats, moving the trade show to New Orleans and the relocation of our headquarters to Washington, DC have kept the member volunteer leadership and dedicated staff super busy.  Change is happening.

Immediately after last year's trade show in Vegas, your IPCPR leadership got to work and drafted comments to the FDA regarding proposed language to extend its tobacco authority to additional tobacco products, including cigars.  That language included an "Option II" that would exempt premium cigars along with a definition of premium cigars.  That exemption, with some modifications to the definition, represents a common sense approach to government oversight given the primary goal of preventing youth access.  Minors are not even permitted in nearly 90% of IPCPR member shops.  Minors use of premium cigars is not a problem.  Regulating our small sliver of the tobacco universe make no sense and would divert limited resources needlessly.  "Option I" throws us into the same regulatory world as currently regulated tobacco products and would have a devastating impact on retailers and manufacturers alike.  Jobs will be lost.  Your IPCPR, along with industry partner associations has spent countless hours in front of Members of Congress and Administration officials making the case that regulation is in the case of premium cigars, a solution in search of a problem.  House Bill 662 and Senate Bill 441 represent our legislative efforts at exemption.  IPCPR has organized four Capitol Hill "fly-ins" where retailers can educate Congress face-to-face.  We also joined with Cigar Rights of America to meet with the Administration to make sure they understand how premium cigars are indeed, different from other products.  I wish I could tell you which way the FDA is headed and what language we can expect.  We believe we will see the final rule sometime this summer or early fall.  You need to join the fight!  Please go to where you can learn about the issue and easily send a message to Congress.

Also at you can take advantage of information critical to your business operation at the state level.  Every state has detailed licensing, regulatory, tax and other requirements.  You can find all this information on our website.  The ground war really is in the state capitols.  With our network of twenty-two state lobbyists and in partnership with the Cigar Association of America, IPCPR works hard to fight OTP tax increases and new smoking bans that hurt your business.

If you really want to help protect your industry and your business, you should join your peers in New Orleans in July.  The IPCPR show is the focus for new releases and access to products not found anywhere else.  You will also have the opportunity to learn from retail leaders from inside and outside the industry with our seminar line-up designed to make you more profitable.  We do want you to have a great time so we're bringing in the band, America, for our first ever IPCPR Cigar Bash.  New products, learning, networking with peers and great entertainment.  Sign up today at IPCPR.ORG.

The IPCPR will be relocating its headquarters to Washington, DC later this year.  (Why DC?  Read above!)  We purchased a three level commercial townhouse on the Senate side of Capitol Hill with easy access to Congress and a five minute walk to Union Station which serves both Amtrak and the Metro.  Having our currently dispersed staff under one roof will also help us serve you better.  We are including a meeting and event space so that we can host members of IPCPR when in town and also host Members of Congress for various functions throughout the year.  Currently we are finishing up the design work and will then go to the permitting process before the build out begins.  I am hoping for an August completion.  We really look forward to you making IPCPR your home when you visit DC!

Mark Pursell, CEO
International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association

Friday, May 1, 2015

Georgetown Homecoming

Dear Friends,

It may be a little known fact that if it wasn't for Georgetown Tobacco, Tobacconist University (TU) would not exist!  Long before I opened my first retail store, I was an international business major at American University in the early 1990s.  It was almost 25 years ago that I stumbled into Georgetown Tobacco and it changed my life, and the lives of hundreds of tobacconists, forever.  I vividly remember the moment I opened the door and smelled that well marinated tobacconist.  I remember taking my first step inside and feeling the wooden floor boards creak beneath my feet.  As soon as I looked up I was taken back by the beauty of that magnificent store.  There are so few moments in life where you know that your future has been irrevocably altered, but that was definitely one of them.  I knew the instant I stepped into Georgetown Tobacco that I wanted to be a part of something that special.

I spent the next few years picking the brains of the tobacconists that worked there and getting an old school tobacco education.  They had already been in business 25 years so the tobacconists were as well marinated in knowledge as the store was in aroma.  While I had grown up around cigars in Miami, and I was familiar with Padron and La Aurora, I had never experienced a full-service retail tobacconist like Georgetown.  It was inspirational and overwhelming.

By the time I opened my first retail store in 1995, I realized how little I knew in comparison to the great tobacconists I had known... so I set about creating the Tobacconist University curriculum to educate myself and my tobacconists.  A decade later, after opening three stores in three states, fighting countless smoking bans and taxation battles, I realized that the industry needed more credibility and professionalism.  My passion for the industry and the people in it kept me from selling out and moving on, so I decided to double down.

By 2005 I began the process of turning the TU curriculum and certification standards into something the entire industry could use and benefit from, instead of just my little stores.  I spent years trying to convince other retailers and manufacturers to support us and most of them listened politely, patted me on the back, but did nothing to help.  Ultimately, I don't blame them... I must have seemed like a lunatic running around telling people we were going to certify tobacconists, promote them, and build credibility and heighten standards for our profession.  I have personally heard and seen so many crazy and cockamamie  ideas in this industry, but I refused to become one of them.   For better or worse, I have a profound mental problem that keeps me from quitting on the people and values I hold dear.  So, I continued to work on TU, every night and every day, never knowing how we would roll it out, fund it, or promote it... I just refused to quit.

Fortunately for all of us, David Berkebile, the founder and owner of Georgetown Tobacco, had taken over as president of the IPCPR (then the RTDA) and he embraced TU and brought us in as the official curriculum for our industry's oldest and most prestigious trade organization.   David has helped countless individuals start their careers in this industry, and in this case he has been instrumental twice!  I don't know where we would be today without his help, but I don't think we would have over 1,200 Certified Tobacconists and Apprentices, nor would we be going to Georgetown Tobacco on Friday, May 15, between 4 and 8pm for an  R&D Cigars Event.  The following morning we will do what TU does best, and administer the certification exam to five Georgetown Tobacco apprentices.

I hope you will join us for this special event.  As I write this I feel a little sentimental, grateful and emotional as I realize what a unique journey this has been.  In some ways, this will be the most exciting and fulfilling event of my career: it is a homecoming of sorts.  More importantly, we will honor and celebrate our history... where it all started.  In some ways, I feel like this event will close the first chapter of the history of TU, but there are many more to be written!  I promise you our best days are ahead of us and I will personally do my best to ensure that, or die trying.  #beaboutsomething

Jorge L. Armenteros, CMT
President & Founder
Tobacconist University