The highest profile tobacco retailing trade association in the industry, the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, has taken a significant step in recognizing its importance as a leader, facilitator, educator, and defender of its members' right to fairly conduct business in a day and age when our industry is under an all-out siege.

With the creation of a new, full-time position on staff at the RTDA's headquarters to handle just legislative matters, the association has firmly embraced the fact that legislative and regulatory issues are no longer an occasional blip on the industry's radar screen, as they were not so many years back, but literally a non-stop, constant deluge. While large manufacturers can literally run their own private lobbying and counter-offense, small tobacco firms and retailers in particular are often at a loss as to how to fight back.

Many have in fact set stellar examples, but an effective trade association in any industry must be capable of informing its membership of crucial issues and effectively mobilizing them to respond. That job now falls upon Chris McCalla. The RTDA's announcement that many legislative duties that had been handled by the Executive Director Joe Rowe will now be handled by McCalla was backed by the extremely welcome fact that the RTDA's efforts in this area will grow, and include such new efforts as helping teach retailers to effectively respond at their own level.

Retail members are, in fact, overwhelmed by an onslaught of business-crushing initiatives both at the state and Federal levels. The RTDA, for its part, is overwhelmed by the impossible task of responding to initiatives in all 50 states. But by teaching its members how to fight back, the association is taking a great step, multiplying its own effectiveness as a crucial force in the industry that can make a significant difference in helping protect members' livelihoods.

One bit of constructive criticism we've heard year after year at Smokeshop, from both retailers and manufacturers alike, is the lost potential at the RTDA trade show to host a highly relevant seminar or breakfast speaker that addresses crucial current issues. While we all love a good laugh, in the end the "feel-good" promotional speakers do very little to help our extremely serious situation. Members are clamoring for concrete information, support, and help. And we, for our part, are thrilled about the RTDA's move.

In an upcoming issue of Smokeshop, we'll be speaking directly with Chris McCalla and Joe Rowe to learn just what they and the RTDA have in store as this new phase in the association unfolds.

E. Edward Hoyt III