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Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Dark Age of Cigar Making & The FDApocalypse

As the FDA forces our industry from the 'Golden Age of Cigar Making' to the 'Dark Age of Cigar Making', there are many changes taking place.  Not the least of which is the government allowing Cuban cigars to circumvent the new rules by being imported by tourists for unlimited personal use.  Currently, the largest manufacturing/distribution companies are gobbling up small manufacturers and importers.  Furthermore, it is clear that the 'big boys' in our industry are becoming more vertically integrated and establishing retail operations or buying existing stores to cement their market domination - all of this in addition to their ever growing mail order operations.  Even worse, is the unseen fact that executives throughout our industry are polishing their resumes while trying to figure out where they will go next.  All the while, retail tobacconists who have invested their lives and capital into their businesses are just trying to survive... as usual.       

While massive landscape changes are occurring in the cigar industry, consumers will see very little change in the short term, thanks to good marketing, spin & pivot public relations, jive talk, jibber jabber, deflection, and the fact that most of the changes we will see will happen incrementally.  They have taken our rights, little by little.  They have compounded and beat us with taxes, little by little.  They have passed smoking bans and new regulations, little by little.  And that's how it happens... little by little.  

Sadly, five years from now, we fear there will be less retail tobacconist stores than today.  Not because the public wants less, but because the business environment is too scary to operate in.  Small business owners cannot fight and compete with local, state, and federal governments while trying to service their customers - that is a game created by and best left to the 'big boys'.  But, despite the challenges, many retail tobacconists will survive and some will thrive.  And Tobacconist University (TU) will continue to serve 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 are not packing up and calling it a day... nor are we changing our strategy, goals, or tactics.  We will not compromise.  We are doubling down.  Over the next year, TU will deploy more new and unique programs and enhancements than ever before.  We will continue to grow and support tobacconists... so stay tuned!  

If you want to make a difference, get politically involved... join Cigar Rights of America, and support the IPCPR... and GET CERTIFIED!!!


Jorge L. Armenteros, CMT
President & Founder
Tobacconist University

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Keeping Your Cigar Shop Clean!

By Ruth Bollo, author of Clean It Right

Living in a clean environment is very important to your well being. Besides a sense of pride, people have more mental tranquility living in a clean and organized home.  It is equally as important to provide your employees and customers a clean, germ-free and organized environment.  Retail Tobacconists in particular are dust factories (because of the smoke) and the constant traffic from customers requires diligent and consistent cleaning practices.

With so many cleaning products and cleaning tools on the market, most people find cleaning confusing and quite a chore. This article is going to change that.

Constant cleaning, organizing and  maintenance are the goals so that dust, dirt and germs don't get ahead of you or hurt you and your customers.


- First and foremost:  do not let anyone in the area you're cleaning until all surfaces, seating and floors are dry.

- Countertops should be wiped often. Most countertops are glass. You can use an antibacterial wipe and dry it with a paper towel.  However to disinfect, leave surface wet for three minutes, then wipe dry.

- An Ostrich feather duster is the recommended feather duster. They come in a variety of sizes and can be purchased on many online sites.  Rather then spread the dust, the ostrich feathers really do trap and hold the dust. You should wash the feather duster at least monthly. Wash the duster in the sink using warm water and mild soap. Rinse the duster, wring it gently,shake it and allow it to air dry before reusing.

- Unscented antibacterial wipes are the cleaner of choice as they can be used and thrown away. Wiping is the preferred cleaning method in a retail tobacconist shop as improper use of spray products can harm the cigar inventory.  Unscented antibacterial wipes- PDI SANI CLOTH AF3 GERMICIDAL DISPOSABLE WIPES ( 3 minute germ kill time) to wipe surfaces such as doorknobs and shelves.

- Floor cleaner- ZEP NO RINSE FLOOR DISINFECTANT. Follow mixing instructions on the bottle carefully. Use water in the sink to mix or purchase a bucket.

- The Eureka Mighty Mite small canister vacuum model 3670 Type G-4 with disposable vacuum bags type MM HEPA filter bags  or disposable vacuum bags type MM odor eliminating premium vacuum bags.

- String Mop - (O Cedar or Quickie brand).

- WINDEX ( clear formula) or Perfect Glass glass cleaner

- SCOTT or KIRKLAND brand paper towels.



- When storing or working with cigar boxes, never place the boxes directly on the floor because floors are dirty and people track in germs on their shoes:  place the boxes on shelves.  

- When employees are helping customers select cigars, have them use a tray to place the cigars in.

- Protection of the quality, safety and integrity of the tobacco products is our main priority.  Avoid touching the head of cigars (the end that goes in your mouth) with your hands, and also do not touch the foot of the cigar or wrapper to your nose when smelling.

Let's Get Started!!!

 "Top To Bottom" cleaning always works best. Using an ostrich feather duster, dust or wipe the humidor down from "Ceiling To Floor". Dust the shelves - top shelf down to the bottom shelf .This allows the dust to fall down to the floor making  vacuuming and mopping the floor your last step. Use unscented antibacterial wipes to wipe any shelves that may need to be cleaned. Do not use antibacterial wipes to clean cigar boxes!  Close the box and use a white cloth dampened with plain water to wipe the box clean. Also use an unscented wipe on the inside and outside  of the doorknob. Vacuum the floor. Mix the floor cleaner in water following the directions carefully. Dip the string mop in, wring it out very well so the mop is damp and not wet. Mop the floor from the back of the humidor out the door. Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before letting anyone walk in. If there are glass windows or doors in your humidor area, a clear glass cleaner can be used such as " Perfect Glass" or  "Clear Windex". However,  AVOID any kind of spray product in the humidor.  Wet the paper towel outside of the humidor,  wipe the glass windows or doors and dry with another piece of paper towel.



Retail Cigar Cutters - Most cigar shops leave cutters on the counters for customer convenience.  People can make a small cut, put the cigar in their mouth to test the draw and then make another cut.  The problem here is their saliva is getting on the cutter so you must train your staff to wipe the cutters down after each use.  Sanitizing the cutters can be accomplished in one of two ways. 1. Using  an individually wrapped alcohol wipe , wipe the cutter thoroughly and allow the cutter to air dry  COMPLETELY before placing it back on the counter. 2. Pump sanitizing gel onto a tissue or paper towel and wipe the cutter thoroughly. Allow the cutter to air dry COMPLETELY before placing it back on the counter.

Let's Get Started!!!

Using the "Top To Bottom"( Floor To Ceiling) cleaning method so the dust falls to the floor making your last step vacuuming and mopping the floor, dust pictures and wall decor ( use clear Windex on glass picture frames and a white rag dampened with water to wipe any canvas, plastic or metal wall decor to remove yellowing from smoke), dust shelves from first shelf down to last, dust fronts of any low cabinets and dust down  to the woodwork. Wipe shelves, surfaces, cabinet doors, cabinet knobs, cabinet handles, countertops, phones, light switches,  hand railings, computers, computer mouses, computer keyboards and cash registers with antibacterial wipes to clean and disinfect. Use Perfect Glass or Clear Windex on glass surfaces but DO NOT spray on a counter area where any tobacco product is present. Alternative cleaning method for glass surfaces is to use an antibacterial wipe. To disinfect, leave the surface wet for three minutes then wipe dry with a paper towel.

If there is a seating area, clean the area by using the same "Top To Bottom" method. I highly recommend chairs made out of vinyl or leather which can be easily wiped with an unscented antibacterial wipe. Make sure seating area chairs and couches are COMPLETELY DRY before allowing anyone to sit. Cloth upholstery is not recommended. After dusting, wipe any tables and surfaces with an antibacterial wipe. Vacuum the floor. Mix the floor cleaner in water following the directions carefully.  Dip the string mop in, wring it out very well so the mop is damp and not wet.  Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before letting anyone walk on it.  Any area rugs can be vacuumed and rolled up or removed from the floor then replaced after the floor is dry.

If there is an entrance area to your store be sure to keep that area clean and inviting using the "top to bottom" cleaning method. Use the same products and cleaning tools as you would use in your store. Be sure to wipe the  inside and outside of the entrance door and the inside and outside of the door handle. 

If you are cleaning during business hours, dry the inside and outside of the entrance door and door handle so no one's hands come in contact with a wet cleaning product.


By following the above suggestions and cleaning methods, you will make your store a great place for employees to work.  Set up a cleaning schedule and responsibilities and hold your employees accountable for your shops cleanliness.  A sparkling clean store is sure to help you provide a fantastic shopping experience for your customers.

To learn more about how to CLEAN IT RIGHT, please visit the website:

Friday, July 15, 2016

IPCPR, CAA, & CRA File Lawsuit Against FDA

Three major cigar and tobacco industry associations file suit against FDA's deeming rule
CAA, IPCPR, & CRA ask District Court of Washington D.C. for declaratory injunction 

For Immediate Release: July 15, 2016

WASHINGTON D.C. - The three major cigar and tobacco industry associations filed suit Thursday against the United States Food and Drug Administration's "Deeming Rule." The Cigar Association of America, International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association, and the Cigar Rights of America are asking the District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory injunction "vacate, set aside and enjoin the enforcement of the final rule" because it is violates numerous federal statutes as well as the federal rulemaking process. A full copy of the filing, which details nine counts against the FDA and the United States Department of Health and Human Services, can be found here.
"Just over one month ago, our three associations pledged to work together to develop the appropriate response to the FDA's new deeming rule. After a thorough and detailed legal review, we are challenging this unlawful regulatory action in federal court to protect the statutory and constitutional rights of our industry and its members. The fact that all three of our organizations are acting in one voice speaks to the urgency and seriousness of this action," said Mark Pursell, CEO of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.
The complaint challenges:
  • FDA’s improper application of the February 15, 2007 grandfather date to cigars and pipe tobacco, which subjects those products to more intrusive regulations than cigarettes and smokeless tobacco
  • FDA's impermissible assessment of a tax in the form of user fees, and its allocation of these user fees only to cigars and pipe tobacco and not to other newly deemed products
  • FDA’s failure to perform an adequate cost-benefit analysis to take into account the effects of the Final Rule on small businesses as is required by the Regulatory Flexibility Act
  • FDA's unjustified decision to require cigar health warning labels to be 30% of the two principal display panels of packages
  • FDA’s unlawful designation of tobacconists who blend finished pipe tobacco or create cigar samplers of finished cigars as “manufacturers," which subjects those businesses to greater regulation than if they were “retailers”
  • FDA’s incorrect decision to regulate pipes as “components” or “parts” rather than as “accessories”
"The FDA ignored the law to craft these expansive and sweeping regulations and cannot justify many of the arbitrary and capricious regulations it purports to enact," said Glynn Loope, Executive Director of Cigar Rights of America. "This lawsuit is a specific and detailed challenge to the FDA's unprecedented assertion of rulemaking authority. "We are acting in one voice to protect the legal rights of our industry at all levels, from the manufacturer, the community retail tobacconist, to the adult patrons of cigars."
Speaking about the lawsuit, Cigar Association of America President Craig Williamson said, "We all worked in good faith to inform and educate the FDA on the unique nature of our industry, its members and our consumers. We hoped the FDA would craft a flexible regulatory structure that accounted for the uniqueness of our industry. Instead, we got a broad, one-size-fits-all rule that fails to account for how cigars and premium cigars are manufactured, distributed, sold and consumed in the United States. The FDA exceeded its statutory authority and violated the federal rulemaking process when crafting this set of broad and sweeping regulations. This challenge asserts nine violations of federal law and rulemaking authority. We are asking the court to enjoin the enforcement of this unlawful regulatory scheme. We are confident that when the court reviews our case on its merits, we will prevail."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Certified Consumer Tobacconist Evolution

Any tobacconist worth their salt can tell you about innumerable atrocities committed by ignorant consumers: these include lighting cigars backwards, lighting the cedar sleeve (sometimes including the silk ribbon at the foot), using a torch lighter on a briar pipe, complaining about stems in premium cigar filler, licking an entire cigar then using a shop cutter, sticking a cigar in their nose then returning it to a display box, and many many more!

Furthermore, few people truly understand what priming is, the importance of air curing, the magic of fermentation, the extraordinary skill it takes to blend and roll a cigar, much less the thousands of artisanal steps between seed and ash.   

But the real shame is the lack of activism and pro-activity of luxury cigar and pipe smokers.  After all, luxury tobacco can be a selfish pursuit, in that we enjoy it solely for ourselves.  It can be easy to forget that our beloved products, lifestyle and freedoms are constantly being demonized and  eroded by over-regulation and over-taxation.  No other profession suffers more punishment and threats from local, state, and federal governments.  And of course countless "health" groups, with hundreds of millions of dollars in their budgets, drive their mission to erase us from existence.  

Ultimately, the only way to combat these forces is through education and activism.  That activism can be as simple as sharing your passions with those who don't know any better, educating your peers, and of course supporting Cigar Rights of America so they can provide a political voice in Washington DC and at the state and local level.  

If you really love these products, then you must take a stand and be proactive.  Any loud mouth can pontificate about what they think they know, but only a Tobacconist University (TU) Certified Tobacconist has proven their fundamental knowledge.  The new TU Certified Consumer Tobacconist (CCT) degree is a historic and revolutionary way to prove your knowledge and join the fight for our freedoms at the same time.  The new CCT program can be purchased in the GET CERTIFIED section of the TU website for $100 and comes with a free one year membership to Cigar Rights of America (CRA).  If you are smart enough to pass the test, you will be a Certified Consumer Tobacconist and a member of the CRA.  There is no better representative of this industry than a CCT/CRA member and we encourage you to join our ranks and help us preserve luxury tobacco for generations to come!

1. Accept The Consumer Code of Ethics & Standards & Apply for Apprenticeship
- After your $100 payment your apprentice listing will appear on the TU website and the CRA will initiate your annual membership

2. Study the TU Academic Curriculum at your own pace

3. Take the Final Exam* on the TU website
- if you pass you will be awarded your CCT degree and your website listing will be certified
- if you fail, you will be removed from the TU website, but your CRA membership will continue

* The TU Final Exam for CCT is 50 questions, multiple-choice and True/False.  It is the same length and difficulty as the original professional test for certified tobacconists which was used from 1996-2005.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Cigar Geek vs. Tobacconist

As we live in the 'golden age of cigar making' there are more educated consumers than ever before.  While both cigar geeks and tobacconists should be extremely knowledgeable, that does not mean they are one in the same.  Some tobacconists are cigar geeks, but not all.  In fact, there are probably exponentially more cigar geeks than there are tobacconists.  

Cigar geeks are characterized by their epic knowledge of cigar components, varietals, processing, brand info, and history.  Cigar geeks can devour all the information available on the internet, advertising, in forums, magazines, books, social media, and from fan-clubs for their favorite cigar brands and/or cigar makers.  Cigar geeks also travel to cigar farms and factories (e.g. Drew Estate Cigar Safari) and educational events like ProCigar in The Dominican Republic.  Many of these cigar geeks also communicate directly with cigar makers they have met over the years, and they will not hesitate to drop a name or two when it suits them.  If you would like to interact or observe this rare breed, you can find a high concentration of cigar geeks on social media (e.g. facebook, twitter, instagram) and at in-store cigar maker events.  Social media sites and in-store events provide the perfect outlet for cigar geeks to commiserate, share knowledge, pontificate, name drop, and chat directly with cigar makers and each other.    

A tobacconist is an expert in tobacco and all of the related accoutrements.  Tobacconists must have working knowledge of pipes, pipe tobaccos, lighters, humidors, humidifiers, air cleaners, cigar cutters, and of course, cigars.  As professionals, tobacconists must have a strong familiarity of our products and the ability to communicate their traits, features, and tailor that to a wide array of customers.  While many of the products we sell have subjective characteristics, we must be able to explain them to customers with varying degrees of experience and comprehension.  Tobacconists are in the business of hospitality and product knowledge, so they must balance facts and opinions.  In addition, tobacconists are 'experts' in dusting, cleaning, facing cigars, humidifier maintenance, taking inventory, more dusting, managing boisterous regulars, listening, asking questions, sweeping, mopping, problem solving, retail multi-tasking, and customer service.  A good tobacconist will have substantive knowledge about all of the products they sell, but it is impossible to be an expert on all of the brands in the marketplace.  

As tobacconists, we see cigar geeks almost every day but they represent a small, single digit percentage of our customers: they are a vocal minority.  Most of our customers don't read the magazines or industry websites.  They don't know all of the components of their favorite cigar or care who made them.  Most of our customers are in and out in a few minutes with a handful of cigars they will enjoy without over thinking or in-depth analysis.  Retail tobacconist customers, for the most part, enjoy a few cigars a month and the only thing they care about is whether or not they liked the cigar: true story.  

On the other hand, cigar geeks love to talk about the products with tobacconists and share their knowledge with other customers as well.  Cigar geeks often know more about new products and upcoming products than retail tobacconists.  In this regard, they can be helpful to tobacconists by providing insight and feedback about products and brands.  Every store can benefit from having a few cigar geek customers or tobacconists.  Their knowledge and passion brings a lot of value to stores and the cigar smoking community.  On the other hand, cigar geeks can have a very subjective and narrow perspective of the industry and marketplace; they tend to buy the hype, believe all the marketing, and have strong brand biases.  They have their own personal reasons for being cigar geeks and that influences what they are interested in, where they get their information, and what they believe.  

Tobacconists do not have the luxury of running their businesses from a highly subjective or opinionated perspective because that won't pay the bills.  Tobacconists must cast a broader net, understand the spectrum of clients they service, and provide compelling value to them.  In the end,  tobacconist success will be determined by the marketplace while cigar geeks only need to satisfy themselves.

Ultimately, this topic is important to TU because we certify tobacconists, not geeks.  We teach fundamentals and professionalism.  TU can help make you a professional tobacconist, but the path to becoming a cigar geek is a different personal journey.  Fortunately, tobacconists and cigar geeks have a lot to learn and benefit from each other.