Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Hard Truth

Rostros Anonadado (Bewildered/Stunned Faces) by Eduardo Expósito
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 and our Sponsor(s) know that they are funding free education and certification without infringing on our Vision and Mission: perhaps, this is why we only have one sponsor. But, 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?

Tuesday, June 16, 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.

Photo from Fortune Magazine March, 6 2000.
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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Junk Science of Tobacco Control

Dr. Michael Siegel wrote a great article last week titled:

Around the year 2000, as smoking ban laws gained momentum, 'big tobacco' (the only people with the resources to fight) seemed to stop challenging any of the extreme, ridiculous, and unfounded propaganda released by the anti-smoking and tobacco control movement. So, for almost a decade we have been bombarded by exaggerated claims, fear mongering, and extreme taxation and legislation furthering the goals of tobacco de-normalization.

I will leave the commentary and analysis up to Dr. Siegel... but I would agree with his assessment that the tobacco control industry has run amok and there is no one (substantively) standing in their way. Just yesterday I saw a nicotine gum advertisement where they encourage people not to stop smoking cigarettes 'cold turkey', even though this is the most successful method. Instead, they encourage you to use the nicotine gum and tell you you will have 'a higher success rate'; while in tiny print on the bottom of the screen it says 'over a placebo'.... Meanwhile, the image of the cold turkey quitter is of him walking off a cliff/building... as if he is committing suicide by quitting 'cold turkey'... Someone/thing needs to keep big pharma in check and who better than big tobacco?