Part Two: Las Vegas Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Fighting for Your Rights

"Think to yourself, I am a cigar voter," said smokers' rights advocate J. Glynn Loope to the 500 cigar enthusiasts at the Las Vegas Big Smoke seminars on Saturday. Loope also stressed the need to band together as a bloc against encroachments on smoking rights. "We have to say, 'We're not going to take it anymore.'"

While sounding an urgent rallying cry, panelists in the "Fighting for Your Rights" seminar also dangled plenty of encouraging news to cigar lovers, who in recent years have seen legal smoking venues dwindle while cigar taxes rose. However, battles won, both in managing to squelch exorbitant taxes and in overturning or softening smoking limitations, prove the fight can be victorious.

Gordon Mott served as moderator of the Fight for Your Rights panel.

The three-member panel, introduced by moderator Gordon Mott as "the frontline" in the battle for smokers' right, included cigarmaker Eric Newman, who chairs the Cigar Association of America, and Joe Rowe, the executive director of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR, formerly RTDA), as well as Loope, the executive director of the consumer group Cigar Rights of America.

Panelists said the most success has come in holding down taxes. For instance, the SCHIP tax on tobacco products was originally intended to be $10 a stick, but Newman and CAA led an effort that kept the tariff to 40 cents.

Joe Rowe of the IPCPR represented cigar shops in the fight for smokers' rights.

Still, Loope ticked off numerous examples in which smoking prohibitions subsequently deemed too harsh by their communities had been rolled back. Long Beach, California, for example, had pushed smokers into the streets, only to find that this complicated pedestrian traffic and rethought its law. "There are cracks in the armor," he said. In South Dakota, a petition of 16,000 forced the government to suspend implementation of its smoking antismoking laws while awaiting a referendum to repeal the ban. In Oregon and Nebraska bans have been amended in ways that are very favorable to cigar bars. In Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Kentucky, strong battles are being waged to overturn antismoking laws.

Loope emphasized the direness of the situation, saying, "There has never been a time in our history when the industry has been under such siege," as he described prohibition-style politics that are sweeping the country.

Rowe insisted that "we've got to stop thinking of this as just about cigars" and enlist the support of other industries—beverage, alcohol, gaming, etc.—who may find themselves victims of similar prohibitions. He also drummed the importance of retailers bonding together even as they are competitors in the industry.

Eric Newman, head of the Cigar Association of America.

Rowe described a political climate in which "all a politician wants to do is get elected."

Hence the importance of voting as a bloc and supporting cigar-friendly candidates with donations. "The old expression is money talks and B.S. walks," added Loope. "All of these things run in cycles. The pendulum swings when people realize things have gone too far. The number of people in this room can change an election."

Newman, a longtime youth league football referee, chose an exhortation from the gridiron: "You gotta hit 'em high, hit 'em low and hit 'em in the middle."

Visit to get involved in the fight.

Photos by Sjodin Photography

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