Busy Legislative Year Will Be Challenging
By Thomas A. Briant

2005 could be the busiest year ever for the tobacco industry.

2005 Legislative Session
IssueNumber of States Considering
Cigarette Tax Increase21
Tobacco Tax Increase16
Smoking Bans18
Internet Sales Limits8
Legal Age Increase6
Self-Service Bans3
Legislative Battles
The 2005 state legislative battles on tobacco issues have begun. As of March 31st, NATO's experienced legislative consultant staff is tracking and assisting its members to respond to legislation on the following tobacco issues (see left).

With most state legislatures in session, and given the number of bills already introduced on tobacco issues, 2005 could very well be the busiest legislative year ever for tobacco stores and NATO.

Anti-Tobacco Strategy Shift
There is a clear shift in the legislative strategy being pursued by the anti-tobacco advocates. While approximately the same number of states are seeking more revenue this year as in 2004 through unfair tax increases on cigarettes and tobacco products, a definite change in strategy is also evident. Last year, nine state legislatures debated smoking ban restrictions in bars, restaurants and other public places. This year, the number of states considering smoking bans has doubled to eighteen. Also, bills in six states would raise the legal age to purchase and use tobacco products. The emphasis on smoking bans and increasing the legal age are evidence of a change in how the anti-tobacco organizations are pursuing their agenda to prohibit the sale and use of all tobacco products.

NATO's Actions
NATO is a leader on retail tobacco issues because its four legislative consultants have a combined 62 years of experience on tobacco-related issues and use that expertise to help protect tobacco stores. On tobacco bills that would negatively impact tobacco stores, the NATO legislative consultant staff writes letters for retailers to sign and send to their legislators; drafts alert sheets for members to give to their customers so they will call their elected officials; and, new this year, prepares special petitions for customers to sign.

All of these measures can be effective in helping block tobacco-related bills. As an example, last year only seven out of 19 states considering cigarette and tobacco tax increases actually passed the tax hikes into law. However, the coordination and assistance from NATO consultants goes even further. NATO's staff helps retailers prepare to testify before legislative committees, writes legislators directly on behalf of the entire association to oppose tobacco legislation, and drafts amendments to legislation.

The NATO Expo
The 2005 NATO Conference and Expo held at the Las Vegas Convention Center from March 29th-31st was the largest show in the Expo's three-year history. The focus of the 2005 NATO Conference and Expo was "Strategies for Sales Growth" and hundreds of tobacco retailers attended the special seminars on selling premium cigars and using visual merchandising to market products. The NATO Annual Meeting included a legislative panel of top government affairs panelists discussing current tobacco-related issues and the presentation of the NATO Pinnacle Award to Tom Trader of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for his dedication and service to the industry and tobacco retailers.

The theme for this year's NATO Annual Meeting at the Expo was "Fighting for Tobacco Stores, Protecting the Industry." NATO's primary focus has been and continues to be helping tobacco stores fight to protect the right to sell tobacco products and the right of consumers to buy and use tobacco products. With the yearly onslaught of anti-tobacco legislation and attacks on the industry, NATO is the lead retail store organization in fighting the on-going battle with anti-tobacco advocates whose end goal is to usher in a new era of prohibition by outlawing the sale and use of tobacco products.

Updated Website
NATO members and tobacco retailers are encouraged to visit the association's updated and redesigned website with its easy-to-use navigation bar, up-to-date information on state and federal tobacco issues being monitored by NATO, plus information about NATO's goals, membership benefits, staff consultants, and association committees. Retailers are encouraged to take several minutes and tour the new website at www.natocentral.org.

New NATO Member
NATO welcomes the following manufacturers and distributors as new members: Caribe Imported Cigars, Inc.; CAO International, Inc.; Cross Bridge, LLC; Home Folk's Wholesale; Key Brands Marketing, LLC; Planet Imports; Mike's Cigars Distributors, Inc.; Santa Clara, Inc.; Scents of Nature Enterprises (SONEC).

SMOKESHOP - April, 2005