Looking Ahead:
Tobacco Issues in 2008

Association gears up for strong response.

By Thomas A. Briant

With 2008 expected to be another very busy year for tobacco retailers on the state and federal legislative levels, NATO has taken steps to expand its legislative staff to meet these challenges. The trademark grassroots legislative efforts that NATO and its members participate in will be supported with an expanded role for NATO on congressional issues as well as more assistance on state tobacco issues.

NATO’s Jackie Cohen has more than twenty years of experience on federal tobacco legislative issues and her NATO role is expanding to focus more of her time on congressional legislation. Her expanded efforts will include meeting with and educating U.S. senators, representatives, and their respective congressional staffs on legislation that will impact retailers that sell tobacco products. In addition, NATO will be working to secure testimony time during congressional committee hearings on tobacco issues.

This new emphasis on federal­ issues will provide NATO and its members with a greater voice on bills that come up for consideration by Congress. With the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill likely to be on the congressional agenda next fall, Cohen’s presence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. will help ensure that the concerns of NATO members are heard by elected officials and their staffs in the nation’s capital.

On a state level, NATO is also retaining another legislative staff person to further augment the association’s ability to help retailers send letters to their state legislators and coordinate grassroots legislative efforts. As NATO has grown, so too has NATO’s influence and the addition of another professional grassroots legislative staff person will increase NATO’s ability to engage retail members and their customers on tobacco legislative matters.

Federal SCHIP Program
With President Bush vetoing the second State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill passed by Congress, Republicans and Democrats negotiated an agreement to extend the State Children’s Health Insurance Program for fifteen months to March 31, 2009 without raising the federal excise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. This is a major success for NATO, its members, and the entire tobacco industry.

Meanwhile, the House leadership has scheduled another vote for January 23, 2008 to try and override President Bush’s second veto of the SCHIP expansion legislation. Even so, it does not appear likely that House leaders will be able to muster the two-third majority vote to override this second veto.

Moreover, Congressional leaders have indicated that they may consider debating the SCHIP expansion proposal with cigarette and tobacco tax increases even though the program has been extended through March of 2009. With the fifteen-month extension of the SCHIP program now in place, Congress will most likely not pass additional expansion legislation.

2008 NATO Annual Dinner
On the evening of Wednesday, April 23, 2008, NATO will continue its tradition of bringing the entire tobacco industry together by hosting the NATO Annual Awards Dinner. This first class, semi-formal affair will be held at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel the evening before the opening of the 2008 Tobacco Plus Expo Trade Show. This dinner serves as an excellent opportunity for retailers, distributors, and manufacturers to all come together and celebrate NATO’s accomplishments and to honor select NATO members for their extraordinary legislative efforts. This exciting event is open to all NATO members by invitation only and invitations will be mailed in mid-March. For more information about the NATO Annual Awards Dinner, interested parties should contact NATO.

2008 Tobacco Plus Expo
All tobacco retailers should seriously consider registering to attend the upcoming Tobacco Plus Expo trade show which will take place on April 24–25, 2008 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. With hundreds of exhibitors including tobacco manufacturers, accessory manufacturers, and distributors, there will be numerous special show deals for retailers to save on all kinds of tobacco products and tobacco accessories.

Moreover, for NATO members that attend the 2008 Tobacco Plus Expo, the educational seminar registration fee will be waived. NATO has made special arrangements to ensure that all NATO retail members can benefit from the important educational seminars without needing to pay the registration fee usually charged to attend the seminars. This is a significant benefit of being a NATO retail member.

Also, for the first time, a special theater is being set up on the trade show floor so that retailers can see new products unveiled by manufacturers and learn about special services offered by exhibitors. While attendee brochures will be mailed to retailers in the near future, retailers can visit the Tobacco Plus Expo website at www.tobaccoplusexpo.com to learn more about this upcoming and exciting tobacco trade show.

Thomas Briant is executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), Toll-free: (866) 869-8888, Web: www.natocentral.org.

SMOKESHOP - December, 2007