Each time I've been to New Orleans, the conversation at some point or another turns to the subject of hurricanes (the storms). From "did you know?" observations about levees, precarious sea level statistics, and stories of giant pumps, it all seems to build up to the inevitable question: what would happen if the "big one" ever hit?

Such idle chatter, conducted while enjoying New Orleans at its best - from its quaint, old-world architecture, to its great food, festive music, and rollicking nightlife - becaming a frighting reality this Summer

For everyone in the industry that attended the 2005 Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) Trade Show in early August, watching New Orleans succumb to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a few short weeks later was surreal and poignantly sad. We had a fresh connection to the city, and found ourselves recalling all of the faces we encountered in the course of our week there - many now homeless, and nearly all jobless.

And so it's of little surprise that the tobacco industry felt a particular need to step up and help all of our fellow citizens, not just in New Orleans but throughout the entire gulf coast affected by the storm. Among the numerous tobacco-related fundraising that Smokeshop is aware of:

  • The Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) mobilized a unique effort to get tobacco products - cigars, cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco donated by associate and retail members - into the hands of work, rescue, relief, and military crews in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina, since normal distribution channels didn't exist. Distribution was handled in conjunction with the Louisiana's State Sheriffs Association
  • The RTDA is providing association members in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, who have been adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina, financial assistance. All affected members will be eligible for an immediate loan of up to $5,000, at no interest, with up to one year to repay.
  • Zippo Manufacturing Company, its subsidiary company W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery, and their respective employees have donated a total of $46,000, including corporate donations of $10,000 each to the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity. Zippo employees raised more than $3,000 in a gasoline card raffle and another $4,000 to benefit a New Orleans family whose home was flooded in the aftermath. W.R. Case employees held a Chinese auction that netted more than $4,000. Zippo and Case supported several other relief efforts including donations to the American Red Cross and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) made by Zippo owners George Duke and Sarah Dorn.
  • Altadis U.S.A. pledged an immediate $100,000 to the American Red Cross, and subsequently pledged to match donations made by its employees, customers, and vendors up to $200,000, up to $500,000 total.
  • The Montecristo Relief Organization pledged $500,000 to the American Red Cross. According to Altadis U.S.A., proceeds of a current program with retailers are being donated to the Montecristo Relief Organization, which will help fulfill portions of the pledge.
Of course, long after the daily Katrina headlines have dwindled to a mere trickle or faded entirely, many of the lives changed by the hurricane will still be in need; the opportunity to help will still exist; and undoubtedly many more relief funds will have pledged their assistance.

E. Edward Hoyt III