Wednesday, January 31, 2007


In almost a decade we have certified dozens of Tobacconists in Princeton, NJ and in Pennsylvania. By the end of this year we will complete the first generation of our four college Academic Curriculum. In addition we will, in all probability, have over one hundred Certified Retail Tobacconist individuals (CRT) throughout the country by the end of 2008. This is a small, but historic step, in a long and uphill journey. This generation of Certified Tobacconists will wear the first ever Tobacconist University Certified pins (see Certified logo in sidebar). These are the same antique brass type pins that U.S. Senators and Congressman wear on their lapels, and to me they are equally special.

I am writing today because I just approved the proof for the pin and it prompted me to think a little about its significance. I know that the pin is a reflection of academic achievement, our adherence to the Code of Ethics & Standards, and also a symbol of pride, sacrifice, and accomplishment. We are proud because we work in an industry filled with generous and extraordinary people (both producers and consumers) as well as with special products. We sacrifice income, honor, and public credibility every day because tobacco has become ‘anathema to our modern society’. Now, through our bona fide accomplishments, luxury Tobacconists can take back their integrity and place in society as esteemed professionals; no less than sommeliers and chefs. Above all, we are individuals who have chosen to work at what we love and to follow our passions.

This brings me back to the pin. The pin is for Retail Tobacconists; those who serve their customers in ‘Brick and Mortar’ tobacco shops. Frankly, we may be a dying breed. Over the last decade we have seen the proliferation of Internet mail order and anti-smoking laws: both of these are formidable forces. As if the anti-smoking laws weren’t enough, the Internet threatens to commoditize the products we sell, and Retailers are challenged to provide increasing value to our customers: a challenge we can live up to. When a customer sees the pin, they will learn that their Tobacconist goes to great lengths to serve them. Customers will then realize the same educational resources their Tobacconist used are freely available to them. If we can educate and enhance appreciation then we can change the culture we live in: one Tobacconist at a time, one Customer at a time.

Soooo…. Look for the Pin.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Private Businesses are NOT Public Spaces

With the fervor to pass anti-smoking laws throughout the country, and around the world, legislators seem to have forgotten that Private Businesses are NOT Public Spaces, where government has the power to control what legal activities take place. Private businesses have the right to refuse service to people (for a multitude of non-discriminatory reasons) just as consumers have the right to vote with their wallets and patronize establishments of their choice.

I fully understand that government can/should limit behaviors and activities on government property, public transportation, or in indoor places where people do not have a reasonable choice to be. But, a restaurateur who wants to cater to cigar smokers, cognac drinkers, wine lovers, and meat eaters should have every right to do so. Especially if every potential employee who applies for work, and every customer who enters the establishment is notified of the policies of that business.

I can see the day when we will enter a restaurant and get weighed and have our Body Fat Index measured before we are given a seat. We will be handed menus/options that depend on our "health" statistics. While my girlfriend gets the "meat and potatoes" menu, I will be relegated to the "salad and tofu" selections. Maybe we will have to sit in the mandated "Dietary" section of the restaurant. Maybe I will get a smaller plate or fork with a very large glass of water. Who Knows? But it seems more likely than not. And ultimately, if you are legislating to protect the "Health and Welfare" of the population, it makes perfect sense.

Smoking: the Gateway Civil Right

I was doing an interview with National Public Radio on Friday and out of my mouth came an unexpected thought: "Smoking [Tobacco] is the Gateway Civil Right". It sounds odd at first, but I went on about eroding our rights and what is coming after tobacco.... Fortunately, there are some places where government is taking a more level headed approach to anti-smoking legislation. In Philadelphia, the mayor, not wanting to limit all legal human freedoms, has allowed exemptions for some smaller bars and establishments serving limited amounts of food, to continue to allow smoking. Perhaps this is the beginning of a more level headed approach to legislation meant to "protect" the general public.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Apathy = No More Rights

In our modern society, the average person is overwhelmed with day to day responsibilities: we pay dozens of bills, cook, clean, go to work, run errands, keep up with family and friends, exercise, worry about retirement, yet finding time to relax is a fantastic luxury. In addition, fax machines, jet planes, cell phones, email, and the Internet have accelerated the pace of life to unbelievable extremes. Being a responsible citizen and staying abreast of local, state, federal, and international politics, not to mention financial and cultural news, is daunting, if not impossible. Most of us are doing our best just to keep up with the bare necessities of information and our own existence. Modern life is genuinely challenging.

Just fifty years ago life was significantly different; perhaps there was more time to ponder and value the important things in life. At that time, America had fought evil and won a world war, we were preserving democracy against the growing threat of communism, and a generation was dreaming of going to the moon. In over a century, our Democracy had proven itself as righteous and prudent. While this perspective might be a little nostalgic, contemporary life is definitely much more uncertain and more rapidly evolving than any other period in human history. Our founding fathers could never have imagined the world we live in. Fortunately for us, they based their vision of America on timeless values and principles, on certain “self-evident truths”: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men …”. These are big ideas, timelessly and eloquently articulated: the idea that individuals should determine their own destiny, so long as that pursuit does not hinder another’s, is the highest American value and ideal. Preserving our Individual Liberty is the greatest challenge of modern times: without Individual Liberty, the promise of America is dead.

Today, the average citizen does not have time to monitor the myriad of local and national laws, rules, and regulations that are passed every week. Not to mention that the complexity of our laws, rules, and regulations grows every day. Consequently, excessive laws, regulations, and taxation are more likely to emerge today than ever before. It is far easier for politicians to create laws and regulations that serve targeted constituencies while not taking into consideration those that are hurt, the long term implications, or the opportunities that are lost. Too often, laws with good intentions are passed only to effect more bureaucracy and unnecessary restrictions: often the short term perceived positive effects of these laws blind our ability to see the long term implications. In the process of just trying to manage our day to day lives, we are not noticing that our rights are being limited or whittled away on every front. While issues like health care, illegal immigration, education, the environment, and social security are ignored, anti-smoking, anti-cursing, anti-fat, anti-freedom laws are being passed with swashbuckling fervor. Yet we remain focused on, if not paralyzed by, preserving our immediate needs: paying our real-estate taxes, food shopping, mowing the lawn, going to the doctor, and taking care of our children are pressing matters. We have little or no time to ponder the big-picture issues of our time, much less fight the onerous legislation that is slowly eroding our civil rights.

On the surface it might seem that Americans are infected with apathy, and have lost the value of liberty and personal freedom that gave birth to this country. But in reality we are just trying to survive in a world that is demanding and changing faster that we can keep up. Our leaders and representatives in government would rather focus on short term solutions or “feel good” issues rather that address the most important challenges we face. Currently, too much corporate influence and selfish motivation is driving our culture forward. What we really need is more non-partisan, non-polarizing, open-minded, level-headed, inspirational, and principled leadership. Leadership that is rooted in the principles of liberty and free and fair markets, based on sound morality, and visionary enough to shape our culture, through education and enlightenment, in order to meet the inevitable challenges of our future.