39th TAA Convention

An enthusiastic crowd of TAA members converge on Nassau to discuss important industry issues.

By E. Edward Hoyt III

The 39th Annual Meeting of the Tobacconists’ Association of America (TAA) was held March 4–7, 2007 at the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, Bahamas. While the weather was admittedly on the cool side, the hospitality of the island in general —and Nassau’s own Graycliff Cigar Company in particular, located just a short stroll up the hill — lent a festive air to the notably strong turnout of retail members and manufacturers alike this year.

Outgoing TAA president Tom Moran, Rich’s Cigar Store, Portland, Ore., kicked off the three days of morning conferences and afternoon activities. Eric and Bobby Newman, of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., took a few minutes to offer some wonderful recollections of their father Stanford Newman, a pioneer in the cigar industry who passed away last year.

Joel Sherman, president, Nat Sherman, urged the industry not to compromise in the face of the numerous attacks against it, as that merely delays the continued chipping away of freedoms. “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success,” he explained. Most importantly, he noted how the balance of power is resting more and more in the hands of several tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris, whose views are often not what the rest of industry wants. “Freedom,” in Sherman’s estimation, “is priceless, but the legacy of tobacco, which literally built the nation, is at constant risk.”

Cigar editor Dave Savona moderated an entertaining panel discussion focusing on father-to-son transitions in the cigar industry touching on such topics as the challenges of bringing new ideas to a family business and differing visions of the future. Participating were Christian Eiroa, president of Camacho Cigars, who spoke of his experiences in the family business with father Julio; Paolo Garzaroli of Graycliff Cigars, with insights on his father Enrico, founder of Graycliff Inn and cigar factory; and Sathya Levin of Ashton Distributors, the youngest of the panel participants who has only recently begun taking on greater roles in the family’s company, working with his father, Robby Levin.

Curt Diebel, Diebel's Sportsmen’s Gallery, Kansas City, Mo., along with Gary Kolesaire, The Tobacco Shop of Ridgewood, Ridgewood, N.J., gave a detailed presentation on air purification technology and systems and which approaches work best in the smoke shop. Kolesaire walked through his own personal experiences in evaluating equipment and selecting/installing his own system, as well as the required maintenance routines to keep the system in peak operational condition.

Legislative Issues
Chris McCalla, legislative director for the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA), presented his analysis and rebuttal statement to the 2006 Surgeon General’s Report, which — according to widespread media coverage, offered scathing indictments as to the health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.

“Despite the declaration of the Surgeon General’s latest report, media reports, and statements made by anti-tobacco groups based on press releases from the Surgeon General’s offices,” wrote McCalla, “the data and summaries offer little conclusive evidence that secondhand smoke is in fact a legitimate health or environmental hazard.”

McCalla also discussed the association’s approaches in fighting tax increases and smoking bans, noting that there are certain phases of a legislative bill’s progress through a statehouse that are more appropriate for a full-blown industry and retailer assault, but that earlier stages are often better left in the hands of the association’s lobbyists while more vocal anti-tax or anti-smoking ban effort “lay low.”

David Berkebile of Georgetown Tobacco, Washington, D.C., and president of the RTDA, updated conference attendees on that association’s current activities. With several very successful executive board visits to Houston over the past two years, the association is extremely “impressed” with the city and the its convention facilities, and is quite confident the upcoming 75th Annual Trade Show and Convention in August will be a tremendous event.

A planned RTDA “mini-trade” show tentatively scheduled for the spring has been delayed for now, but still has support for a future debut, with details yet to be worked out.

The biggest news for the 75-year-old association is a new identity: At the end of this summer’s August convention, the RTDA will unveil a new name: the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Association (IPCPA) to more effectively differentiate the association from negative connotations within a very beleaguered tobacco industry.

Norm Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America (CAA), discussed recent premium cigar import trends (for a complete story on this subject, see “Premium Cigar Imports,” page 60). He also went to great lengths to clarify the mission, purpose, and effectiveness of the association, established to promote the goals of cigar manufacturers. Sharp noted that major manufacturers and small boutique firms don’t always have the exact same view on all issues from a competitive standpoint, but the association’s work in protecting the cigar market and fighting taxes, regulation, and smoking bans that are detrimental to business is a common goal of all cigar makers, large or small. It is imperative that all manufacturers join together to support the association’s crucial lobbying efforts, says Sharp.

Finally, Craig Cass, Tinder Box, Charlotte, N.C., and TAA vice president joined Xikar, Inc. president Kurt Van Keppel for the TAA’s first-ever “Dream Machine” interactive, instant-audience-response survey polling retailers on numerous aspects of their businesses and instantly displaying the compiled results for the entire room to see. The seminar was well-received and TAA officials promise it will make a repeat appearance at future conventions.

SMOKESHOP - April, 2007