Written by Gary J. Arzt

Friday, 06 June 2008

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clubs and organizationseric espinosa
guillermo leonlito gomez
tobacco legislation

Cigar Rights of AmericaCIGAR RIGHTS OF AMERICA ... On another day ...

I made it my business to speak with Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana, knowing he had made one or two of those trips to Washington last spring. I decided a simple Q & A would be the best way to elicit the information I wanted from him:

Gary: Litto, the creation of Cigar Rights of America is, obviously, an outcome of the industry's concern and response to the SCHIPS tax issue. This item will be revisited when Congress reconvenes in September.

So, let me ask you ...

Do you think the industry failed itself by not separating itself from cigarettes, in the public's eye, more than three (3) decades ago?

Litto: Yes I think so but remember better late than never. Sometimes things have to get really ugly in order to get better.

Gary: Will CRA involve a serious lobbying effort, spearheaded by a serious lobbyist, such as Bill Cohen or Tommy Boggs…of that ilk, I mean?

Litto: That is part of the action plan including but not limited to doing cigar events with members of Congress once a year so we can open channels of communications with them and keep them close to us.

Gary: What is the precise program of CRA?

Litto: The details will be outlined in the website most likely by the end of the week.

Gary: What are your expectations?

We would like to see our choices restored. We recognize that the fight will be hard and long but with the support of cigar smokers I have faith that we will prevail.

I would like to see restaurant and club owners to have the choice to allow smoking if they want it. That should be their right if they can keep the air clean in the establishment. And, we need to stop antismoking activists otherwise there will no places left to enjoy a cigar.

As always, Litto was brief, to the point and, as far as I'm concerned very clear in his thinking.

I moved on and sat down with Eric Espinosa, partner with Eddie Ortega in Espinosa y Ortega, distributors of 601 at an event at Mike's Cigars (1030 Kane Concourse, Bay Harbor Islands, FL 33154) last evening.

Eric told me, "We weren't contacted initially, but we certainly believe an effort like CRA describes is certainly required, even if a long time coming. Espinosa y Ortega is a young company; we've put our money and our heart into it and into 601 and it would be awful if anti-smoking zealots and Congress with their insane taxes snuffed out our business!"

While I was moving all over Miami, an additional manufacturer signed on to CRA.

My next stop was Puros Fine Cigars (10792 Coral Way) where I spoke with the owner, Alejandro Alcorta. He was equally frank: "We opened a year ago. In fact Saturday is our anniversary and we're holding a "customer appreciation day," with food, drinks, music and fifteen (15%) discounts. My cousin, Little Al, and I have worked our tails off. We put in a lot of money; long, long hours, and frankly, Gary we've had some success. I worry about that the anti-smoking groups and the government could wipe out our business with t he stroke of a pen. Sure, I could go back to Real Estate Appraisal ... but I don't think that would work now!"

While there, I spoke to a couple of customers and got comments that totally support the effort of CRA. Izzy Delgado told me, "Last spring, I signed and got many smokers to sign those Faxes that went to DC. I enjoy my cigars and I don't want to have them taxed to the point I can't afford them, or have the places I can smoke reduced any further." Laz Guzman echoed Delgado's sentiments and I would describe him as ‘teed off,' but happy to see that someone was finally getting on the case.

At Absolute Cigar (22 S.W. 8th Street, Miami) long time customer, Joe Baz stated the obvious, "It's about time someone made this move," as he puffed on an exquisite PIO VI by Alberto Medina.

In a response to my e-mailed query, Guillermo Leon of La Aurora/Leon Jimenes responded from Santiago, DR: "Gary, I learned that Jeff B. had already answered your four questions on behalf of CRA. I would like to add that the main members of Cigar Rights of America will be cigar enthusiasts themselves. It is not about cigar manufacturers or retailers. It is about the people who cherish their individual freedom and rights to enjoy cigars."

Again, the emphasis is on us. With CRA's help, we can, and well do, something to protect our rights!

I don't have to ask Gallup to tell me that CRA will get the support of the smokers, the retailers and the manufactures. It is about time the battle lines were joined. We have been pushed around too long. Smokers do have rights!

Ordinary guys, smokers, lovers of the leaf, 'empowered' now that there is an organization taking the point.

There was another bright spot, in another way, for us. CALSTRS, the California State Teachers Retirement System ... a pension fund with $169 Billion in assets is considering lifting an eight year ban on tobacco investments. Undoubtedly, this will be directed at cigarette companies, but the admission that they have missed more than $1 Billion is investment returns, due to the ban, proves, one way or another, it is all about money!

Then, I got home and learned that the IPCPR (formerly the RTDA) was doing what they should have done decades ago, albeit, they are not a lobbying organization. They have formed "Friends of the Industry." Not as specific, nor inspiring as "Cigar Rights of America," and probably going to create a lot of pressures on people to join one organization or the other. Much as my cigar maker friend told me on Monday, about the pressure already being applied.

Hopefully, it won't become divisive or acrimonious ... since we, the smokers will be the ultimate losers ... again!

So, it never rains it pours!

LATE BREAKING NEWS: I spoke with a Board Member of the IPCPR, who I have known for a for a very long time, and he told me: "The industry has always had solid relations with each other, and we have always worked together and will continue to work together. I am confident that the industry today will work together to benefit all cigar smokers."

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More Articles on Cigar Rights of America

Original posting about Cigar Rights of America (Part I)
More information on Cigar Rights of America (Part 2)
Cigar Rights of America - Interview with Jeffrey Borysiewicz of Corona Cigar (Part 3)

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