by Daniel Trope, director of federal government affairs, IPCPR
This year could prove to be the pivotal year for our industry. Heady words, right? And probably ones that you have heard before. But now, eight months after implementation of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) deeming regulations, the IPCPR’s member retailers and manufacturers anxiously look at their calendars, counting down the days to this deadline or that new compliance measure. Warning label plans, ingredient lists, and the stark decision of whether to sacrifice pipe tobacco sales or register as a manufacturer are just some of the new difficulties that will become a reality for tobacconists this year. The theory of an existential threat is no longer just a theory. It’s a proven fact.
So with all the doom and gloom, what’s so pivotal about 2017? From the IPCPR perspective, the industry has never been better positioned and better understood in Washington, D.C., than it is now. Persistent engagement, not only from the IPCPR but more importantly from our dedicated and engaged tobacconists around the country, has made our issue a known quantity among decision-makers inside the Beltway. This was no more evident than when the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act (H.R. 564) was reintroduced within two weeks of the new 115th Congress with 39 original co-sponsors. And that number continues to grow. The Senate only further validated our industry’s engagement a few weeks later with its companion bill, S. 294.
Moreover, 2017 brings with it new leaders to the FDA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the rest of the executive branch, many of whom have lent their support to our industry in the past. Additionally, the new administration remains dedicated to identifying and correcting instances of regulatory overreach and to easing the burden on small businessmen and businesswomen around the country. For years now, the IPCPR and our members have stressed the catastrophic consequences the FDA’s rule could have on small businesses. It’s our hope that this message will resonate with the new administration and that they’ll right this woeful wrong.
A great start to the year, so I’m sure you’re now asking, “If we have all this momentum, why worry about the rule?” Well, momentum doesn’t yet mean results. For instance, efforts last year to exempt premium cigars through the congressional appropriations process fell short. Rather than adopt a full funding package, Congress chose to push a continuing resolution. In short, the federal government is operating under an extension of the previous year’s funding levels through the end of April.
This is proof that we can’t just expect certain election results or previous emails or phone calls to congressional offices to solve our problems. As an industry, persistent engagement and consistent conversations with your representatives on Capitol Hill is what will keep our issues front and center. Stay active and stay vocal. Go online, pick up the phone, go to your representative’s district office. Ask for their support of H.R. 564 or S. 294. Tell them you need relief through the appropriations process, and tell them to support language introduced last year by Republican Rep. Bob Aderholt of Alabama exempting premium cigars. Make clear the implications for your business, your customers and your community. Put simply: Get loud and stay loud. Until then, the deeming rule will remain a reality.
In the meantime, the IPCPR will continue to serve as a resource for our members now faced with challenging compliance measures. We will continue to engage with federal agencies and work to ensure that tobacconists across the country aren’t left with more questions than answers. Not sure what deadlines might be looming? Visit our FDA Toolbox at ipcprlegislative.org to find out.
Finally, believe it or not, rolling back the deeming rule isn’t the only thing the IPCPR is working on this year. We continue to track the nascent 115th Congress and its overflowing agenda—much of which will directly or indirectly impact our industry. Regulatory reform, tax reform, a new budget … the list goes on and on. It is an exciting and fast-paced time up on Capitol Hill to be sure, but many questions remain this year. Will a new tax package increase costs to manufacturers, retailers and their customers? Will reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program change the excise taxes imposed on our products? Will changes to the Dodd-Frank act increase credit card user fees for cigar merchants? These are the types of questions we as an association continue to ask and evaluate as we work to represent our members here in Washington.
This year is pivotal for the industry. We at the IPCPR look forward to working with Congress, the administration and most importantly with you to make 2017 not just a pivotal year but a fruitful one for the industry.