Sunday Editorial

As many of you know I’ve been pretty vocal about the CRA. Well in August Glynn agreed to do an interview with me but when I submitted the questions he wasn’t too happy with them so he offered to write an editorial instead. That editorial never came.

In the mean time a reader of this website submitted this for you to read and I personally agreed with his points. In all fairness if someone from the CRA wants to submit a response I will gladly give them the floor.

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Dear Fellow Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf,

Hello All. These are just some thoughts of mine. Some talking points for the next time you and your buddy sit down to smoke. The next time you’re on some internet forum and you see a thread come up. The next time you decide to vote. It’s no secret, cigar rights are decreasing by the hour, but it’s time we do something about it, and I mean actually do something.

Your first thought? We have the CRA! You’re right, we have the CRA. For those of you who haven’t seen the patriot holding a cigar, which I highly doubt given the site you’re reading currently, here’s what the CRA says about itself:

CRA’s MISSION

Cigar Rights of America (CRA) was founded on the principle of fighting for the freedom to enjoy cigars.

CRA is a consumer-based, non-profit public advocacy organization that works at the local, state, and federal level of government to protect the freedoms of cigar enthusiasts.

Together, with our constituency of nationwide members, we focus our fight for freedom in two main areas:
-Oppose Restrictive Smoking Bans
-Oppose Taxation of Cigars

The group is led by Glynn Loope, whose bio is below

An avid cigar enthusiast, Glynn brings over twenty years of government relations and public arena involvement
to CRA.

Prior to assuming his role as CRA’s executive director, Glynn was the founder and president of Commonwealth Advance, LLC in Virginia – a leading government relations and business development consulting firm.

Although Glynn had carved out a niche in raising government funds for worthwhile public and private sector projects, it was working for the Cigar Association of Virginia that brought him to the world of “the politics of cigars.” Since 2006, Glynn has represented the Cigar Association of Virginia, working with the state’s professional tobacconists in amassing a pro-business coalition to fight intrusive smoking ban legislation.

Glynn also worked as a Legislative Assistant to former members of the Virginia House and Senate, for the University of Virginia’s Center for Public Service, as well as, local and regional government organizations.
So. It looks like we have a pretty basic mission led by a guy who has experience. Everything should be going fine, right? Not really. In the past month we’ve seen Santa Monica ban smoking on porches, New York City attempt to ban smoking in parks and beaches, amongst a host of other attempts to limit our use of tobacco.

Your first thought? Defend the CRA! We need more members. We need more influence! They need our support!

Perhaps. But, perhaps the CRA doesn’t need anymore support? Perhaps the CRA doesn’t need anymore members? Perhaps, they don’t need more money? What if the CRA needed to change?

The CRA is like a cult. It has cool t-shirts, nice looking badges and members that believe that you aren’t a smoker, until you’ve got your CRA badge. What a crock of shit. I have yet to see anything the CRA has done outside of a couple of nice sampler packs, and don’t worry, the CRA Sampler 3 is on its way. The organization’s motto through e-mails, social media and amongst its members in cigar shops seems to be, “we need more members.” In fact, that’s the last thing the CRA needs. The CRA needs transparency of what it does with the money it gets from members, a proactive approach via its ambassadors and to get off its ass and do something.

The cesspool that is the CRA could be the death of smokers. What occurs if the group that we expect to protect our rights, doesn’t do anything? What happens if New York City continues its campaign to making cigar smoking on par with crack-use and the CRA just issues Call to Actions? What happens if the CRA fails to inform its members about politicians who do support cigar smoking? What happens if the CRA continues at its status quo? And what happens when it’s too late?

Story time. Back in 2008 when SCHIP was again being voted on. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL), who represents a large part of the cigar industry in his consistency and is an avid smoker, managed to get a meeting between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Jorge Padrón. Meek was featured in Cigar Aficionado, not only for his efforts to set up the meeting, but also because of his love for cigars. When SCHIP passed a second time, it included a tax raise of forty cent cap per cigar, an eight time jump from the original five cents. While the cigar industry went up in arms about this, few remembered that the forty cents (as a cap), was a hell of a lot less than the three dollars originally proposed under the first SCHIP bill.

Meek is now running for one of Florida’s Senate seats. In the Democratic primary, he was attacked by his opponent for ties to the cigar industry. Did the CRA stand up for him? No. Señor Padrón thought what Meek was doing was important, he was quoted saying, “We can’t afford lobbyists, so we do our own talking… We explained to them that we weren’t opposed to contributing to the legislation, but cigars were bearing the brunt of it. We’re not big tobacco. A tax like that would decimate our industry.” Meek ultimately voted for the forty cent increase, but still was tied to big tobacco.

Recently the CRA, published their “Smoke the Vote” campaign (ironically, also used by a pro-marijuana group) and listed a group of politicians it suggested it members to support. Was Meek on there? Nope. No, the guy that said of the first SCHIP, “I thought that the tax increase on the handmade cigar industry went a little bit too far… Well, not a little bit too far, it went too far. This would have hurt not only a lot of businesses in South Florida but also those countries where the tobacco comes from.” Yeah, that guy, not someone we should support? Instead, listed are people like Meg Whitman, who hasn’t said a word about smoking rights in her campaign for California governor, other than talking about marijuana. So what if people are pro-business, I’ll take someone that is pro-cigar and someone that understands what the cigar industry is any day of the week over generic pro-business.

I’m a realist. What politicians say and what they do are two very different things. And that extends to the CRA. Despite spending hours over the past year on their website, I’m still left with one question: what has the CRA done? Sure, it united smokers. It made some hats. It sent out some e-mails. But, I’m not sure what the CRA has done in New York, what it has done in Pennsylvania, in Florida, in D.C., and most importantly in your town and my town.

Most of the new smoking legislation is not on a federal level, it’s a local thing and as such the space for the CRA to be effective is very much real. There are plenty of mics at council meetings for people to stand up and oppose new regulations and taxes like Jeff Borysiewicz did in Florida. There are plenty of smoke shops willing to host people like the NYTDA. Most importantly, there’s plenty of room to do something.

I’m not really sure what the CRA intends to do, but it seems like sitting on its ass and asking for money is a large part of the current strategy. I don’t know who the CRA has met with on the political level (because they don’t have it listed) and finding what they do outside of promotion on cigar forums and its own website is difficult. Even a quick glance at their own media appearances page shows that they’ve only appeared in two non-cigar related media outlets, that’s not good.

I once got very close to sending my $35 to the CRA. This was long before I did my research. I didn’t know about the Pelosi-Padrón, didn’t know about the differences between SCHIP I and SCHIP II and I had no clue what the CRA had done. I listened to my fellow smokers who told me I needed to join. But then I thought for myself… What I found was aggravating and disappointing. For a community that talks about rights, it seems we do little other than complain. (I know, pot meet kettle.)

I fear that our blind support for the CRA as a community may cost us. Until we demand the CRA (or someone else) to be a proactive and transparent group focused on results, I believe our rights will continue to disappear. We need to stop sending donations for someone else to do the work and actually do our parts as a grassroots community.

I’d like to know a lot about the CRA. I’d like to know which politicians they’ve met with. I’d like some clue as to where the money goes besides the web designer and Mr. Loope. It’d be nice to see a concrete example of what the CRA has done, whether it result in a victory or defeat. I’d like to know the CRA’s plan for being proactive to prevent future legislation. When I read stories about a local ban, I’d like to see CRA being mentioned in the story. The whole idea of being like the NRA is missing a lot, but ultimately, the largest difference currently is that no non-smokers and tons of smokers have no clue who the CRA is.

To call the CRA a grassroots organization would be a straight-up lie. It’s not entirely the CRA’s fault, but who am I trying to fool, they aren’t getting a cookie. It’s a paradox. The group is supposed to be a consumer-based group, yet Mr. Loope states himself that a collection of thirty or so manufacturers are the main supporters. It’s not a group that was started by consumers, it was the manufacturers. It’s not a group whose leadership was chosen by consumers or even its members. Simply, it is everything but grassroots. I don’t know what the CRA’s main purpose is now, but supplementing the manufacturer’s efforts to fight bans and taxes wouldn’t be out of the question. I’m not stating that’s my true belief, nor am I suggesting that what the manufacturer’s are doing to fight legislation is a bad thing. But, if that’s the case, the CRA must tell its members and start over, as a real consumer group.

Smokers need a grassroots organization. We need something that we start, that we control and that we can trust. We need a group that focuses on results and uses the power of its members effectively. We need an organization with transparency and goals. None of these are things we have in the CRA and for that things need to change. I’m not sure if starting a new group is the solution, but ultimately, the CRA in its current form cannot and will not work at protecting our rights. At the end of the day, sampler packs, reposting links from local newspapers and sending out Call to Actions won’t do anything but waste bandwidth.

Rather than responding to posts like this one, send an e-mail to your congressman, better yet, pick up the phone and call your mayor. Tell them about your local tobacconist, tell them about the people you smoke with on Saturdays. Tell them about your hobby and its history. Remind them, we aren’t big tobacco; we don’t have three lobbying firms on retainer; we’re just regular people desirous of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, one puff at a time.