FIGHTING MAD, FIGHTING BACK
By now, everyone in the retail tobacco industry has hopefully taken a good, long look at the tax situation in California. Proposition 10 may not have obliterated the state's tobacco shops as some extremists might have viscously have hoped, but it has had a undeniable financial impact, and forced a number of stores out of business entirely. Not surprisingly, the initiative's clue-less celebrity crusader, the one with little concern for sound, legal, public policy, has callously and indifferently brushed aside the broader effects of his Meathead Manifest.
The plot continues to thicken, though. At least one early influential Proposition 10 supporter, Charlton Heston, withdrew his support entirely, well after the election. In a letter to the National Smoker's Alliance, Heston outlined his frustration over being misled by the true nature of Proposition 10, despite having had the best of intentions. Revelations like this will go a long way in helping to build a case against Prop 10, as well as throwing a wrench in Rob Reiner's efforts to duplicate the bureaucratically-burdened program in others states.
But now that the headlines have died down, complacency could be the biggest danger in keeping the fight alive. For those who have survived Round One of the tax hike, and wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers who tallied-up the immediate effect on their business, the temptation to merely cede to Proposition 10's new ground rules may already have taken hold among some.
Don't give in - phase two of the tax hike is still on the way in California, and once implemented, the darker retail scenarios could still come true.
C.A.R.T., the California Association of Retail Tobacconists, is busy preparing its legal challenge. Charles Janigian, the association's president, believes the chances for overturning Prop 10 are quite encouraging. But the group is in need of financial resources to be able to effectively research its case, and to afford the high cost of presenting its case in court. C.A.R.T. has extended its appeal to cigar manufacturers and distributors throughout the industry.
If you are a retailer in California, join C.A.R.T. If every retailer in the state joined, the association would be halfway towards its financial goal. Larry Wagner of the Cigar Warehouse in Sherman Oak, California, suggests a number of additional ways that California retailers can help raise money for the cause, anything from selling empty cigar boxes for $5 each to holding in-store smokers with cigars donated by a supplier and charging a modest admission.
"Throw a cigar bash, have an auction, raffle off that exotic humidor that's been collecting dust since Christmas of '97," suggests Wagner, "then send the proceeds to C.A.R.T." See our association directory, page 102, for contact information.
Please visit Smokeshop Online, our website at www.smokeshopmag.com, for additional information on this campaign and creative ways you can help, and be sure to visit www.beatprop10.com - the official web site of C.A.R.T.
In this issue, Dale Scott's investigation of a humidification overhaul at a Rhode Island retailer provides valuable lessons in reducing cigar spoilage, while Richard Carleton Hacker explains why you might want to consider adding estate pipes to your store. Bob Ashley delves into the world of "top-shelf" machine-made cigars, and how they differ from drug store brands.
Finally, despite all of the turmoil in the cigar industry over the past year, retailers may be surprised to learn that this summer's upcoming R.T.D.A. Trade Show in Las Vegas could prove to be yet another record-breaker. Check out the inside line in our show preview (page 84) for details. Rest up for the biggest week of the year in the tobacco industry, and we'll see you at the show, July 12-15.
E. Edward Hoyt III