Matthias recently sat down with Ronnie Parisella, CRA ambassador and FineTobaccoNYC contributing writer to chat about local and national cigar politics, with a focus on New York City. If you are a cigar smoker in New York City and want to know how you can help protect your rights, or get to know your CRA rep a bit more, then read on.
When did you originally begin smoking cigars, and what brought you in?
I was working for Charles Schwab & Co, Inc. in Brooklyn as a help desk engineer in 1997. Cigars and the economy were booming, and the NYC cigar scene was very active. This was before Bloomberg stopped smoking in bars & restaurants. My first cigar was an Ashton Maduro that I purchased from Barclay Rex on Broad St. downtown. I loved talking cigars with shop reps and still do. I’ve never walked into a humidor and failed to learn something useful. I love listening to guys argue about cigars as well, as it is all about taste. Give 5 different smokers the same cigar, and you might get 5 different sets of tasting notes. it’s all about preference, and there are nearly unlimited options available.
What is the greatest smoking experience you’ve ever had? (cigar, location, atmosphere, occasion, etc)
How about a random one? About a month ago, I was walking down 6th Ave. in NYC, when I was stopped by a police officer. As he asked me about my cigar, I assumed I was going to get harassed for smoking on the sidewalk (which is apparently illegal in NYC now), but instead, the officer told me how much he loved cigars and began to rattle off about a dozen of his favorite brands and sizes. He was such a nice guy that after we chatted, (and I gave him a couple of old CA copies I had in my bag), he popped the trunk on his cruiser, pulled out a small bag of cigars and gave me a Cuban Cohiba #2. It was an interesting NYC experience, and one that I’m sure Mayor Bloomberg, would love to eliminate in the future.
What is it about Cigar Rights of America that you find so compelling that you volunteer your time?
A common misconception regarding the anti-smoking movement is that it is solely geared toward cigarettes. It targets all smoking products including cigars. All 50 states in the US have some form of a smoking ban or a tax on tobacco products. The primary goal of the anti-smoking movement is to eventually outlaw all tobacco products. Cigar Rights of America (CRA) was founded on the principle of fighting for the freedom to enjoy cigars. CRA is a Non-Profit Consumer Grassroots Organization that works with local, state and federal governments to protect the freedoms of cigar enthusiasts.
What do you find the most common reason behind the public’s willingness to support smoking bans and tax increases?
Cigarettes. Our biggest challenge in fighting for our freedom to enjoy premium hand rolled cigars, is separating the public’s perception of tobacco. The premium hand rolled cigar industry consists of centuries old techniques that respect the land, the crop and the tradition of the industry. Big Tobacco is completely the opposite, driven by corporate greed and shareholders. The cigar industry does not intentionally make their products addictive. No additional tar, nicotine, ammonia, etc. is added to premium hand rolled tobacco. To the contrary, many steps in the fermentation/curing process specifically remove impurities from the leaf. On a recent trip to Davidoff’s Camp Camacho in Jamastran, Honduras CA, General Manager Sandra L. Ochoa described that the process is what keeps cigar tobacco from going stale, even though it gets dry. Cigarette tobacco is much more processed and cannot be revived indefinitely, like premium hand rolled cigars.
In recent years there have been quite a few increases in the amount of tobacco taxes and regulations on cigar smokers around the country. What would you say is the primary battle ground for cigar rights advocates? Local, state, or federal?
While the federal anti-tobacco movement is geared at cigarette smoking, the premium hand rolled cigar industry is still unfairly lumped in with all tobacco use. I believe that we can raise awareness about the threat to our freedoms. Unite at your local Premium Cigar Shop, with enough support, we can fight this inclusion with facts and education.
Given CRA’s mission, they are clearly very aware of the proposed invasion of the cigar industry by the FDA. What are the proposed policies, and why are they so dangerous?
Overall, I applaud the FDA for intervening in the free market to prevent underage smokers. The main concern is while the FDA has stated their investigations and focus will remain on the cigarette and not cigar industries, they may choose to do so in the future. The policies aren’t the issue. The issue is that there is no clear definition that separates the premiums hand rolled cigar industry from mass-produced, intentionally-addictive cigarette and chewing tobacco industries. I am behind the Gov’t’s intention to make tobacco use less appealing to underage Americans. I am not happy that I can no longer by D’Jarum Cloves in NYC, but I get it, and am not too upset.
What are the basic principles behind the CRA’s strategy to protect our right to enjoy fine tobacco?
This is a basic “no taxation without representation” issue. If the premium hand rolled cigar manufacturers are to be taxed, they should be taxed at rates in line with non-addictive products. This is an industry, a product of camaraderie and of brotherhood. Our NYS tobacco tax rate of 75% is ridiculous compared to some other states (i.e. Kansas – 10%). The disparity is often tied to the the aggressiveness & tenacity of local officials. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has reportedly contributed $220M of his own to the Anti-Tobacco movement.
As a resident of New York City, what do you think lies behind Mayor Bloomberg’s massive increase in tobacco regulation? What do you think his end-game is?
The Mayor wants his city to be the nicest in the world.
What can the average cigar smoker in the U.S. do to help keep the culture alive?
What can a new cigar enthusiast do to learn more about the premium hand rolled cigar industry?
1. Become a certified tobacconist: http://www.tobacconistuniversity.org/
2. Visit your local cigar shops
3. Support the cigar industry on Twitter: @CigarRights, @FineTobaccoNYC, @IPCPR,
4. Follow Cigary Industry Blogs: FineTobaccoNYC.com, etc.