Sunday, March 25, 2007

Im Not Angry?

I'm not an angry person. I think. Well, someone told me the other day that while they agreed with Everything I have written in my Blog, I seemed to be angry. Hmmmmm. Well I don't think of myself as an angry person. Perhaps I would use the word passionate.

But it made me think. I have been a retail Tobacconist for almost 15 years and I have grown to love my profession and customers more and more every year. Yet the work has become increasingly difficult. It is a peculiar profession, to say the least.

I am the son and grandson of Cuban refugees. People who came to this great country to escape oppression and gain their freedoms. When you grow up in a house with people that fled their country and left behind everything of value, you tend to have a different perspective. My perspective is that The United States of America is indubitably the greatest country in the world. The personal freedoms in this country, our inalienable rights, the ability to define our pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, and a free/open/transparent society makes America not just different from other countries, but SUPERIOR!, I think.

Frankly, I would rather not have this blog at all. There is no joy in writing this thing. I would prefer to do other things with my time. But I cannot be idle while the very things that make this country great are being compromised out of fear and short-sighted thinking. Remember that in Cuba, they have universal health care and a higher literacy rate than in America !!! BUT THEY HAVE NO FREEDOM!!! When governments define and legislate "healthy" and "good" behaviors, Civilization is in full decline.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Smoking Ban, Politics, & Lies

Things are really heating up on the New Hope, PA Smoking Ban front. In the last week, several articles have been published with varying opinions and positions. As the local Tobacconist in the area, I have accidentally become the voice of the Smoking population. Whenever a reporter needs a "pro-smoker" perspective they call me. I am used to it, but often it seems like the local Tobacconist is the only voice of dissent on the Smoking Bans. In reality, many "non-smokers" are against these bans and many other citizens have just "given up" and accepted that 'this is the way the world/country/state is going'. I have plenty of postings that relate to this issue, so please feel free to read those if you want commentary on the who, what, and why of Smoking Bans and our apparent apathy. Ultimately, much of the Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) hysteria is fear driven feel-good politics and legislation. It is a sad reflection of the world we live in. But today I simply want to outline the un-truths, spin, and potential lies that have emerged in the recent past, with regard to the New Hope Smoking Ban. It is a microcosm of what has happened around the country and the way the public has been manipulated by fear and nonsense.

Here are a few links to our local newspapers in NJ & PA and the articles that were published:

There are some other articles and when I reference them I will quote the article with absolute accuracy. I tried to link them, but they have been archived and are not available to the general public.

As I have said before, comprehensive Smoking Bans are feel-good laws intended to make politicians look good and get re-elected. Obviously, I do not think people should be subjected to ETS in enclosed spaces where they do not have a choice to be. So, with that said.... here are some quotes from Richard Hirschfield, President of the New Hope Borough Council.

- "We got two or three responses about it, all of which were positive" (meaning the Smoking Ban Proposal)
In the next line in the article, the reporter, Riley Yates writes "Well, not all of them." And then he proceeds to talk about and quote directly from the letter I wrote Mr. Hirschfield.

- "Its a dirty habit"
What can I say about someone making such disparaging and moral judgements? I must let this statement stand for what it is.

- "I can empathize." "But they don't have the right to smoke in other people's living room so to speak"
PRIVATE BUSINESSES ARE NOT OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVING ROOMS!!! "so to speak" : This is a disgusting example of political, emotional, biased, and distorting language. Unless of course the legislation is going to extend into people's living rooms, which it is not, just yet.

- "Mr. Hirschfield said officials have received complaints about smoking in public places such as restaurants, although he could not say how many."
How Convenient that you cannot say how many. Yet I don't doubt that some very self-involved people feel it is their right to never be exposed to any kind of ETS or odor-annoyance. So rather than patronize establishments that cater to them, they would rather force businesses and their politicians to enact ridiculous rules and laws.

- "He also noted some establishments in town voluntarily went nonsmoking, but were persuaded to revert to smoking by pressure from fellow businesses. He declined to name the businesses, not wanting to add more pressure to what they're already experiencing."
This might be true: I have heard of the marauding bands of smokers going around and strong arming reputable businesses into allowing smoking. Obviously, I jest. This is one of the more absurd, ridiculous, and artificially contrived statements I have ever read. I patronize nonsmoking restaurants when the food is good. I know they exist and I have never heard of this kind of "pressure" being exerted on any establishment to allow smoking!!! Businesses cater to their customers, plain and simple.

- "If we can't depend on the state to protect us, we have to protect ourselves"
How about protecting yourself by not going into smoking environments: that is your prerogative. I wonder what our founding fathers would have thought about Mr. Hirschfield's revolutionary fascism. Or perhaps we are protecting your chances of re-election.

Anyway.... I could go on forever, but I have real work to do. I will be at the New Hope Borough Council meeting to address the issue on May 9; will you? Maybe we can have them add a no-trans-fats measure to this bill.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Tobacco" vs. Cigarettes ?

Today, 95% of the money generated by the tobacco industry is from Cigarettes. As a result, most people associate the word tobacco with ”Cigarettes”. When people discuss the negative health effects of “tobacco”, they actually mean “Cigarettes”. Print publications, the media, politicians, and even the TSA Agreements use the word “tobacco” when referring specifically to “Cigarettes”. In the public realm, there is little distinction made between different types of tobacco, consumers, or consumption patterns. “Tobacco” is a bad word in contemporary society, yet this is a misnomer. The political, social, and cultural turmoil over one product, Cigarettes, has besmirched a much broader and more profound industry.

* This is an excerpt from the soon to be posted "A Brief History of Cigarettes" section of Tobacco College.

Health & Morality Are NOT Related

In my view, there are two fundamentally incorrect issues upon which all anti-smoking and clean-air legislation are predicated. The first mistake is for legislators and the public to accept the notion that PRIVATE BUSINESSES are PUBLIC SPACES: they are not! Government buildings, "Public" Transportation, and any non-outdoor space where people do not have a reasonable choice to be are PUBLIC SPACES. Otherwise, Americans, and Citizens of Earth have inalienable rights to CHOOSE where they are or where they are going. If you don't like smoke, don't patronize establishments that allow it, don't seek employment there either if you have a problem with it. But it is not any one's right to determine what legal practices are allowed inside private businesses. I choose not to patronize loud bars and/or nightclubs, and I even avoid boisterous college-like drinking environments. This is my personal preference. For me, these are unhealthy and/or unpleasant environments. I fully support people's rights to go out and behave like idiots and I wouldn't expect my legislative representatives to pass a law against it just because I don't like or approve of it. But with smoking, 75% of the population is determining the rights and freedoms of the unpopular 25%. (This refers specifically to cigarette smokers. While the National Cancer Institute says that there are no known negative health consequences from moderate cigar and pipe consumption (less than one per day), the word "Tobacco" continues to be used when specifically referring to cigarettes. Sadly, this mis-use of the language besmirches the reputation for all tobacco. But this posting is not about luxury tobacco, it is about freedom.)

The second, and biggest fundamental flaw with anti-smoking zealots is the position, whether overt or covert, that smoking is immoral. I just read an article where a PA legislator said that "smoking is dirty" and the obvious extension of the statement is that Smokers Are Dirty. This is the prevailing mentality of the society we live in: Smoking is dirty and unhealthy. The population is convinced that any exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is going to kill you. Legislators often use the argument that "if it save just one life it is worth it". But this mentality is absurd: it is a cancer on our society. I have said it before, but I will reiterate: In the name of the health and welfare of the population, they can take away every right and freedom we have.

We need a society and laws that help educate and enlighten people, not laws that restrict our freedoms. People should have the right to CHOOSE. Choose what you eat, where you live, who you associate with, if you smoke, what to drink, etc... But our legislators enact laws limiting our choices and actions. The right to make personal choices and to define your own life is central to the American philosophy. As long as your freedoms do not hinder another's, there should be no laws standing between me and my choices. But I digress...

Ultimately, what you smoke, eat, drink, think, and do is your own business. It is only immoral if you infringe upon or hurt someone else in the process. Currently, the greatest societal immorality of all is when legislators enact laws that limit our choice and freedom. The tide will turn one day and we will realize that we have whittled away the American dream in an effort to pass feel good laws under the pretense of protecting people. What we really need is protection from those who are taking away our freedoms. I'm waiting for the greatest minds of our generation to step up and fight real injustice............. still waiting....

Here is a link to the article which prompted this posting. While the article was flattering to me, it is sad that the politicians who propose this smoking ban are getting exactly what they want: more feel-good publicity.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Metropolitan Society

I think someone more eloquent than me could/should write a great book on this amazing congregation of passionate cigar lovers, so I will only attempt a short tribute. Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of attending an extraordinary event at The Metropolitan Society, with Rene Castaneda of La Aurora/Miami Cigar Co.. The abbreviated history of this organization: Around thirteen years ago, a small group of cigar smokers started having a monthly dinner where they could eat well, enjoy delicious beverages, and smoke great cigars with their friends and fellow aficionados. Last year, with the NJ anti-smoking laws coming into effect, the Society was faced with their own demise. Rather than give up and accept the consequences of the ridiculous prohibition, they took their destiny into their own hands and formed a private club. Today that club occupies approximately 4000 sq/ft of beautiful space in Fairfield, NJ. It is appointed with every conceivable amenity and convenience you can imagine: kitchen, beverage machine, pool table, bathrooms, giant ashtrays, club chairs, sofas, tvs, dining/meeting room, ventilation, air cleaners, art, etc... Currently their membership consists of about 150 of the most interesting cigar-loving characters you will ever meet. The club itself is private, affordable, and crafted with the same love and affection that a great cigar maker would give to their own products. I have never seen anything like it. And it is a testament to the passion, commitment, ingenuity, and resilience of people who refuse to have their rights taken away. While anti-smoke hysteria threatens the future of cigar and pipe smoking, The Metropolitan Society remains a beacon of hope for those of us who need it.

Monday, March 5, 2007

I Love Tobacconists

I feel remiss in not having written in a couple of weeks..... but I would like to follow up and say that the Tobacconist University Certified Lapel Pins finally arrived and they ARE Spectacular!!!!

But that is not why I am inspired to write today. I just came from a meeting of our State Retailers association. It is a unique group filled with retailers from all walks of life. Our members are Retail Tobacconists with different specialties and stores that serve very different markets. To put it mildly, it is a diverse group. I'm amazed at the diversity of opinions in our meetings. While we are all essentially in the same profession, you would think we weren't. It is amazing to see so much disagreement and lack of consensus. But that is par for the course in the tobacco industry: cigarettes pitted against cigars, retail against mail order, etc.... We are severely fractionalized, divided, and constantly on the defensive: fighting legislators, taxation, oppression, and sometimes ourselves. Even with all of the different opinions floating around in that room, and different agendas, there are some underlying commonalities, which I admire and respect greatly. I didn't start writing this to complain about my fellow Tobacconists. In fact, I leave these regular meetings a little frustrated at the state of our State and Nation, but I also leave rejuvenated. I'm not rejuvenated because we came to any sound conclusions or had any great ideas. I'm invigorated because I'm reminded of why I choose to stay in this industry. Stay and fight for what I believe in; both in terms of freedoms and values. Above all, most Tobacconists I meet are GREAT people. Sometimes I think they are the only people left who actually care about the products they sell. We are Customers, first and foremost. And we are committed to what we love, no matter the challenges, because our passion is undeniable. I can't think of any other profession facing so many obstacles. Yet I have never seen so many fine people so committed to fighting the good fight and doing the right thing. Sure I'm biased, but that doesn't change the fact that I Love Tobacconists... and you should too. Don't let this part of our culture, this venerable profession, die. Support your local Retail Tobacconist, and tell your friends to do so as well. I would argue that nobody works harder to satisfy their customers, than Retail Tobacconists.... and I promise you, they aren't doing it just for the money.