Interview: Glynn Loope – Cigar Rights of America
The premium cigar industry continues to be threatened by meaningless federal regulation and is perfunctorily targeted as part of local smoking bans and taxation increases. This ongoing, 10+-year journey has seen many hills and valleys along the way, but thankfully, organizations like the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), the Cigar Association of America (CAA) and the Cigar Rights of America (CRA) have waged effective counteroffensives to combat an overriding obtuse understanding of the premium cigar industry.
From local town halls to the steps of our nation’s capitol, these groups along with millions of cigar lovers also continue to champion awareness that their efforts aren’t perceived as just being motivated by surreptitiously circumventing health concerns, infringing upon the rights of non-cigar smokers or recklessly clogging our courts and collective legislatures.
The issues contained within the FDA’s mandate to regulate premium cigars is a lot to unpack, and like many government-related issues, past and present, much of what has transpired and continues to be discussed can usually be distilled down to this: a fundamental misunderstanding. We did an editorial on the latest in this saga back in late 2017 and, believe it or not, little has changed, save for more petitions, law suits and political wrangling
We had the great pleasure to sit down with Glynn Loope, Executive Director of Cigar Rights of America, a successful force in this fight whose consumer-focused mission is to safeguard the rights of growers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers of premium cigars. Below, you’ll find the full audio version of our interview or, for the more visual folks, the full transcript of our discussion.
Listen to the full interview below (approx. 35 minutes)
99 Hi Glynn, thanks for joining myself and 99 Cigars today to talk a little about the great work you and your staff at Cigar Rights of America, or just CRA, are doing on behalf of cigar lovers, retailers, manufacturers and growers.
Glynn, lets kick things off and tell us a little bit about how and why CRA was formed, what CRA’s mission is and what your role is within the organization.
GL Well, that’s a great way to kick things off and I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and your listeners. Cigar Rights of America was really born in the middle of 2008 and that was before there was any staff, really any perceived mission and that it was borne out of necessity.
It was born at a time when the industry was really, for the first time, in the political crosshairs of the United States Congress with the initiation of taxation that everybody now knows as SCHIP, State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the original proposition was to fund that program with a tax [of] $10 per cigar. Now think about that for a second – $10 per cigar. And I was, at the time, working with the Cigar Association of Virginia fighting smoking bans and the like virtually as a volunteer. And I was a guest of theirs at the Houston RTDA at the time.
Then, in Houston, Texas literally just all Hell broke loose when word of this tax program on cigars, on premium hand-made cigars, got out and made its way to the Houston trade show. And after the show, Rocky Patel and Christian Eiroa and Jorge Padron and [Corona Cigar’s] Jeff Borysiewicz, (from what I understand, because this is all now political lore) headed to Washington, this is their grand strategy, this is their words – to speak to anybody willing to speak to them.
And to make a long story short, they worked together to get the tax chiseled down to forty cents. But that was the great wake-up call that something politically needed to be done differently to reinforce the message of the premium cigar industry with Congress, with state capitols with city halls with galvanizing consumers to be involved to help carry that message, and that was really the impetus for the creation of Cigar Rights of America in 2008.
And I came on board in late that year and really considered my beginning January 1, 2009, but I was on the job, if you will, in December of ’08, because we got to know a lot of the guys in the industry, people in the industry, through their work with the cigar association of Virginia.
“Covering the 30% of a front of a cigar box with a warning label – 20% of the front, 20% of the inside – is just an amazing commentary especially when you look at a carton of cigarettes facing the public and there’s zero warning label“
99 We did an editorial last year, featuring a chronology of events leading up to the current Deeming Rules position on premium cigars just to get our head around it – can you summarize where we are right now with the FDA?
GL I’m not sure if the FDA does! It’s a really complex, its the most complex thing that’s confronted the industry ever. I mean, to go back to 2009, I remember being in a room at an industry meeting in April 2009. It was my very, very first presentation to the industry and I looked out and I knew that, you know, the Tobacco Control Act which was the beginning of the regulation of cigars, but the Tobacco Control Act, was on the table and it was pending before congress. I look out over the crowd and I said, “I can assure you ladies and gentlemen that SCHIP and what you confronted with SCHIP was just practice.”
Those were my exact words. It was just practice to what you’re going to confront with the regulation of the industry by the federal government. Because anytime you give a federal agency with the authority to do something, they’re going to do it. And in June of that year, President Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act. I’m giving just little bit of history to put it in perspective.
Congress told them to regulate cigarettes and smokeless products and never told them to regulate cigars. There were five left to regulate and beginning in 2010, they started advertising in the federal register their intent to come after cigars. And so, really between 2010 and 2016, it was an offensive measure with congress for the first time, initiating legislation to defend the industry and to exempt a narrowly defined class of premium hand-made cigars [sic] to congress and that legislation has been pending ever since.
Now we’ll get to that in just a second. But, May 10 of 2016 they came out with the final rule. I called it a “velcro approach to politics and regulation” – throw everything and see what sticks. [They threw every] thing at us. It was a worst, really was a worst-case scenario. I don’t say this in a partisan context and I want to clarify that. I’m not saying its in a partisan context, but the Trump administration has been in power for a little over 800 days, a little bit more, and the regulation hasn’t gotten any worse.
What we’re fighting today is the cause of what happened between May and August of 2016. So, we filed a lawsuit against the FDA. We had our day in court. The judge ordered a stay on the implementation of the warning label requirements, which was very significant. We feel very strongly about that issue because of the artisan, skilled artisan, nature of cigar boxes and the unfounded science that those warning labels were based upon and are based upon. Covering the 30% of a front of a cigar box with a warning label – 20% of the front, 20% of the inside – is just an amazing commentary especially when you look at a carton of cigarettes facing the public and there’s zero warning label.
I was recently at a meeting in the White House office of management and budget and I held up a carton of cigarettes and I said, “where’s the warning label? There isn’t one.” Literally, if you think about it, you go into a Sheetz or a gas station and you see the wall of tobacco products behind the counter, and what’s facing the public is zero warning label on a pack of cigarettes. Well, they’re using us as guinea pigs to [sic] cigarettes and that’s [when] they hit us with such a harsh regulatory standard for warning labels and the judge has put on a stay on that. And we’re currently in the appeals process.
Through the work of our litigation counsel, there was also a delay facilitated through the justice department, on the harmful, potentially harmful, constituent testing requirement which saved the industry millions and millions of dollars. And there was no guidance from the agency. There [were] no standards put up by the agency. There was no methodology (‘what are you testing for’?), guidance from the agency and yet they wanted to plow forward with it. And it was only through the work of our litigation counsel with the justice department that the delay was implemented. And what we’re trying to do is to either get an outright exemption or modify the regulation through the Trump administration to institutionalize these decisions that have been coming through the litigation process and the legal process.
Meanwhile, [we’re] working with our allies in Congress to voice our opposition to the current regulatory standards on premium handmade cigars in a way that brings fairness to the process. You know, we worked with a consultant to produce an economic impact analysis on these regulations and it works out that 100% of the profit margin of all cigar companies would have to go to implementing the regulation. It would cost thousands upon thousands of American jobs much less the international implications of what it would mean to the employment [sic] in Latin America.
So, those are the types of messages that we’re consistently working from and with in Washington with allies in congress [and] with the Trump Administration. As I’m fond of putting it, “this battle is both ends of Pennsylvania avenue and a big giant courthouse in between’ [sic]. But, at the same time, Cigar Right of America, we’re in the 2019 state legislative season and we bring awareness to state legislative issues to our consumer members and consumers and retailers throughout the country that begins in January through this time of year on state legislative initiatives that are either positive or negative for cigar consumers and retailers and manufacturers.
And there’s dozens upon dozens of pieces of legislation of that nature floating around at the same time we’re going through what we are in Washington. So, you know, I’m fond of saying we’re not going to be the first industry and we’re not going to be the last to crawl our way back from political Armageddon, but it sure as heck would’ve been a lot easier if we’d started all this like 20 years ago instead of 10. But, it is what it is and I think progress is being made.
“its painfully obvious that premium handmade cigars don’t fit the congressional intent of the Tobacco Control Act“
99 You know, you’ve kind of answered my next question in a roundabout way and aside from the obvious concern and efforts to keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors and young adults, which I think, universally we’re all concerned about, many have characterized the Deeming rules as a “solution looking for a problem” and that premium cigar regulation is simply unintended consequences of trying to regulate peripheral matters like flavored tobacco products – is that a fair assessment and I was going to say ‘are there more moving pieces’, but I think you nicely outlined those moving pieces, but if there was one thing, if we had to distill this thing down to one argument, if that’s possible, what would you’d say that would be?
GL You don’t need me, you just summed it up. You summed it up very, very well and I’ll tell you where you are exactly right and some of the surrounding pieces of the puzzle. The way I would completely summarize it, is that the [FDA] agency is looking for a one-size-fits-all approach to tobacco regulation. They want a one-size-fits-all approach to tobacco regulation and that’s the cleanest way I can put it. There’s a lack of recognition that all products are created equal. Well, they’re not.
And that’s been a heart and soul piece of our message to the agency and to the administration and to the courts. And I’ll tell you where the science completely backs up our position and it was encapsulated in the public comment that we filed on July 25 of last year and we’re coming up on the 1-year anniversary that this has been in the hands of the FDA. But, based upon studies by the National Cancer Institute, by the New England Journal of Medicine, by the American Medical Association, it is just painfully obvious, and maybe that’s just a poor choice of words, but its painfully obvious that premium handmade cigars don’t fit the congressional intent of the Tobacco Control Act.
By virtue of us not meeting that threshold or that standard of adverse public health impact, based upon statistics that are, well to use their terms, ‘statistically insignificant’, data that indicates we’re not a problem, we’re not a public health nuisance, we’re not a public health menace, we’re not a public health problem when it comes to [sic] inhalation, addiction, mortality or youth access. That’s the heart and soul of the public health argument against every other tobacco product and we don’t fit the bill.
Inhalation, addiction, mortality and youth access – can’t say it more clear than that. And the research from very, very credible sources completely backs-up that position. And we’ve provided this data coupled with, for the first time ever, very, very in-depth analysis of the demographics of the premium cigar industry, demographics of the American cigar consumer and analysis of purchasing patterns, an analysis of usage: I prefer to call it enjoyment, but usage patterns. And if you look at things like violations on youth access or demographics on public appeal of premium handmade cigars, our demographic starts at age 27, then leaps to 35, then it leaps to 50.
Well, I think that kind of says we’re not a problem for America’s youth. And the other data from the analysis of the studies that I mentioned clearly note that we’re not the public health nuisance that the agency, or anybody else, tries to paint us into. So, I hope that answers your question.
99 No, that’s absolutely perfect. And you really kind of outlined what I think most of us have a fairly good grasp on, not everybody, but I think that, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I know this is kind of a tricky question, but is the current contentious political theatre of Washington these days adversely hampering your efforts?
GL It doesn’t help. We’re fond of saying… our legislation, you know, HR1854 and S9 – HR54 sponsored by congresswoman Kathy Castor now has about 64 members of the House of Representatives on it and historically that same legislation has had about 289 members, 297 members over the period of from 2011 till now. S9, sponsored by Senator [Marco] Rubio has right at a dozen members of the senate and that’ll be growing here real soon.
But yeah, the political climate doesn’t help things. I mean nothing gets done. I’ll be painfully honest, congress is broken. And we’re very bipartisan – we’ve got ultra-liberals on our bill, we’ve got ultra-Tea Party conservatives on our bill. We’ve got Democrat, Republicans in the same state on our legislation. But, we’re not just battling the forces of congress in terms of the gridlock that engulfs that body.
You know, we’ve got 42 health care groups against our legislation, big tobacco is not crazy about it, you’ve got the Tobacco 21 agenda which is going very quickly through the states and probably half a dozen bills now filed in the United States congress on Tobacco 21. Big tobacco, and I say this for the record, it wouldn’t have gotten as far as it has if it weren’t for the complete endorsement of big tobacco – Altria has endorsed Tobacco 21 – and you know there’s not enough money, time and energy on planet earth to fight that once you’ve got that type of political muscle behind a proposition like that.
There’s only enough room for so many tobacco bills to be considered. But, Senator Rubio and other allies in the congress are diligently working both with the administration and the legislative process to try to, you know, work our language into the appropriate places where it can fit. So, the answer to your question is, it doesn’t help things, [sic] that’s the nature of the beast, we got to deal with the hand of cards we were dealt and we use the political process as much for messaging to the administration. Using our legislation to message to the administration is a cornerstone of our work. So, it gives us a platform. So, hope that answers your question too.
99 Yeah, it absolutely does and thanks for bringing up the point about big tobacco being maybe on the wrong side of this and as a follow-up question, I hadn’t planned on asking this, but since you brought it up, and I’m glad you did, you know, how do you combat the efforts of big tobacco going down this road?
GL You don’t! You know, we were on opposite sides of the table one day and we’re on the same side of the table another. [sic] September to December we are on the same table, same [sic] sheet, at the same table, on the same [sic] sheet. Last September to December when we were trying to get language into [sic], successfully gets into a House Appropriations measure before the congress changed hands politically.
That would have changed the predicate date in the FDA language and simultaneously provided an exemption for premium handmade cigars in the same appropriations bill. We were on the same side of that. And we turned right around and we’re on opposite sides again. So, you know, in Washington, its that proverbial phrase, ‘if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu’. We’ve got to stay at the table and we’ve got to realize that, you know, your friends one day are your enemy your next and could be your friends the very next week.
And you just kind of judge it based on the political dynamic of the moment. And it just doesn’t make any sense to burn bridges unless you absolutely know you’re not going to have to go back across. And in Washington, that’s a pretty rare occasion. Just constantly look over your shoulder and hope for the best, but the key is making sure our message is consistent and our message is being heard. Otherwise, you know, its that ‘…on the menu’ situation, otherwise other people are going to do your talking for you and you may not like what they say. So, that’s the reason that its good that the premium cigar industry’s now got a standing political presence in Washington.
99 I saw a number – 5559 – on your website that made my head spin. This is the number of petitions sent to the 116th Congress. What has been the result of all this lobbying?
GL Well, that’s a good question. Over the life of the legislation, its been over 350,000 petitions to congress. And you’re absolutely right, 5000 during this session is horrible. Galvanizing the retail community, the catalogue community, blogging community all to help spread the message is critical and tantamount to the success of that. Now, our petition system makes it incredibly easy if you go to cigarrights.org for all your listeners, and put in your name, your zip code, our message takes care of the rest and it’ll reach your member of the House of Representatives and your two members of the Senate automatically.
But, its still a question or a matter of training the American cigar consumer to be engaged in the political process. So, I’m glad 350,000 plus have done it since the 112th session of congress, but people need to pick up their game and make sure they’re making those calls and emails heard to their members of congress during the 116th session [be]cause it is, as you noted, a very different political dynamic.
99 Kind of switching gears real quick Glynn, Smoking bans seem to be popping up in all corners of the US, I think most recently out in Hollywood, fortunately they’re exempting cigar lounges, but these smoking bans, including my home town of San Antonio: I get the feeling there’s more to it than second hand smoke and health concerns – what else is driving this trend and what can we do as consumers to combat it?
GL Well, what you referred to was Beverly Hills and that wasn’t just a smoking ban. That was not a smoking ban. That was a ban on the sale of tobacco.
99 Oh wow, okay. Yeah, you’re right, you’re right – I got it wrong.
GL And included cigars that are sold at, not at premium cigar shops. So, there were 2 cigar shops and the Grand Havana Room private cigar club that were exempt. In fact, I wrote an article yesterday for Cigar Snob about that entire episode and what the national implications are for that. But you’re right, and most smoking ban legislations obviously at the local level as well as at the state level, not as much at the state level this year.
Except for the state of Oklahoma, which had a nasty, nasty piece of legislation that was a no-exemption form of a smoking ban that would have impacted cigar shops, clubs and bars throughout the state of Oklahoma and it’s a horrible piece of legislation and, thank goodness, it died. There’s still a threat of a piece of legislation creeping its way into Louisiana. Those are the two most prominent ones in 2019 that we had to keep an eye on.
But, you know, I’ve called, for 10 years now, I’ve called smoking bans the largest seizure of private property rights in the history of the republic. And I truly believe that. The opposition’s done a magical job of convincing a lot of politicians that a smoking ban is about smoking in a public place because the public is allowed to walk into an establishment. Well, that’s not good enough.
Its private property and you’re invited in and its my house, my rules, my restaurant, my bar, my lounge, my cigar shop…its personal property, it’s a private transaction between you and the landlord, you and your owner, you being the owner, whatever the case might be and just because the public is allowed to walk in, you’re allowed to tell them to leave. Or, let the rules be known, you know, a lot of places with smoking bans, that have passed smoking regulations that have provided an exemption for cigar bars or cigar lounges, or shops have mandated signage requirements that put out to the public “smoking is allowed in this establishment’ and if that bothers you, don’t walk in. It’s as simple as that.
But fortunately, most places across the country have recognized the fundamental difference between a cigar shop and a cigar bar by either not allowing people under 21, and this is well before the Tobacco 21 bill started popping up, but not allowing under 21, independent type of ventilation systems, making them cigars-only types of establishments. There’s a lot of creative ways that the cigar industry has positioned itself to get exemptions, but that is something that we constantly have to stay in tuned to because there’s a lot of places that have been hurt by not paying attention to it, not engaging with the political process, and subsequently got their smoking privileges revoked. And, you know, it’s just one of those things you’ve got to stay diligent about it and this year, Oklahoma clearly proved that case.
“They keep a running tally in these offices of the ‘yays’ and the ‘nays’. Especially in the House of Representatives and especially at the state and local level because you represent a vote“
99 In your opinion, how effective, good or bad, has the cigar media, maybe even the media at large, been in getting important messages from the CRA, IPCPR, and CAA out there and what can we do better?
GL Well, that’s a good question. In this new-found era of social media, its not as difficult as it probably once was to get the message across when emergencies arise or the necessity of being engaged in the political process. I would just encourage the cigar media universe to be more diligent to really help to convey information that’s relevant, important and timely, to your listeners and readers respectfully.
I think collectively the three trade associations do a good job of putting stuff out. There’s times that we can’t talk. I just had that discussion recently with a noted cigar media entity and I said, you know, on this particular question we were talking about, our lawyers didn’t want us to say anything. And sometimes it’s frustrating for the cigar media, but this is a temperamental process.
Sometimes we can’t be as candid as we would like about the political climate, But, we certainly try to be diligent about it and I think, you know, a lot of the really, really noted platforms that talk about cigar issues as a whole, I think people are pretty diligent in trying to help spread the word. Its more of a question of facilitating the reaction and getting cigar consumers and retailers and manufacturers, in fact, to react and to do something with that information after we [sic] out. And that’s where the industry still has a lot to learn.
99 What is the most effective means for the cigar consumer to get involved and make their voices heard?
GL Well, that’s a great way to encapsulate this entire discussion. You know, there’s a plethora of ways that the consumer can be engaged in the process. But, the questions, I’ll just turn back to you: How many consumers are willing to pick up the telephone and call the local district office for their member of the United States congress on federal regulation of the industry or the passion that they have for cigars, or to pick up the phone and call their member of the state legislature or city council on a smoking ban or a tax issue?
It’s a question about building cigar consumers up as a political constituency and I’m still saying that a decade later. I think we have mobilized a lot of people. I think we’ve recruited a lot of great volunteers throughout the country that are helping with this process. But, it’s about political engagement and so I just think the easiest way to answer that is by laying out some fundamental strategies; one, take the time to fill out the petition.
I did believe for the first time years ago when we started this process, I did start to truly believe we were making a difference when consumers would take the time, and hundreds upon hundreds of people did this – I thought this was fantastic – people took the time to send back to us, the responses from their members of congress. So, they would write them about the regulation, write them about the necessity for an exemption and if the legislator was on our side they would put it in their response letter and if they weren’t, they would do that too or most of the time, the form letter that says ‘…thank you for your opinion and I’ll try to remember your opnion…’.
But, at least the consumer, the cigar consumer, took the time to send us back the response. That’s when I truly thought we’re making progress, we’re getting through and I thought that was a splendid benchmark moment in the political trilogy of all this. But, to go back to the laundry list: fill out a petition to your member of congress; send them an email that all the members of congress in the House and the Senate have, and local and state level as well. All of them post their public email address. Use it. Send them a message, if it’s about a smoking ban, tax measure or the federal regulations, send them a note about it. They respond to that.
I’ve been in hundreds upon hundreds of members of congress offices and if you’re a constituent especially, they ask where you live and if you’re a constituent. They keep a running tally in these offices of the ‘yays’ and the ‘nays’. Especially in the House of Representatives and especially at the state and local level because you represent a vote. So, use our petition system. Use the public email domain of elected officials at all levels – local, state and federal. Take the time to make a phone call to them and register your opinion on a given issue, pro or con.
Also, just to take it to another level, a lot of cigar clubs have done this, but work with your local cigar shop or if you have a private lounge – what ever the case might be, private cigar club or public retailer – is sponsor what we call a “cigar town hall”. Invite your elected officials into our inner circle of cigar brethren, let them see its not about children, let them see the demographic where they know, you know, that we’re all a bunch of you know, middle aged, older type of folks that are enjoying a premium handmade cigar.
Let them see the demographic, let them see the lack of adverse public health consequences, let them feel it and touch it. Invite city councilmen, state legislators, your members of congress for a cigar town hall and let them hear what you’ve got to say about our issues. And I think that’s just taking it to another level. So, hopefully that outlines a few strategies that folks can use in a very tangible way.
99 Right, you know we’ve recently become members of the Cigar Rights of America as a media group and some of the things that you guys have done are just phenomenal. The amount of work that you guys have put in over the years is really measurable and its making a difference, clearly its making a difference. And the tools that you have on your website, we’re still kind of exploring them… but I would encourage everybody to get out and join CRA. Its nominal and you’re supporting a great cause.
Glynn, that’s all the questions we have. We had a few others, but I think we hit on all the important ones. Thank you so much for allowing to go over time and cover some of these really important topics. This has been an enlightening experience for us and we’re proud to support such a worthy cause. Do you have any final thoughts, something you want to leave us with?
GL Well, I appreciate it and your very kind words and you know, I probably do a podcast or so every other week or so it seems, or a radio show – think I’m doing KMA [Kiss My Ash Talk Radio] this weekend – But, all of you collectively help spread the word and so we hope people will go to cigarrights.org, use it as a resource. If you have a question, if you have any confusion, if you want back-up material send us an email at email@example.com and we’ll answer your question.
We’ll get back to you, we’ll provide you supporting information, we’ll provide you speaking points, we’ve got a state-by-state breakdown on the site, so if there’s a bill, like I said, in Oklahoma or Nebraska or Texas – anywhere that’s very germane to the premium cigar sector – it should be on that site. So, with that we just hope folks will be engaged in the political process to help protect this passion we all have for great cigars.
As business members of CRA, we would encourage all passionate cigar folks to stand up and make your voices heard. For less than the cost of a full-service car-wash, you can become an individual member, but there are other options as well. There’s still work to be done, but there’s also lots of strategies and tools with which CRA empowers communities, so we can do our part to protect our passion for premium cigars.
We’re incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity to chat with Glynn and gain a more solid footing into understanding whats a stake for the premium cigar industry and how we as cigar lovers can participate and make an impact. We’d also like to recognize the passion and phenomenal impact the efforts of Glynn and the Cigar Rights of America have made throughout the years in reminding those seeking harsher regulations that this matter really is nothing more than a solution in search of a problem. – In Fumo Pax!