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  • Writer's pictureBen Balliro

A Leaf is a Leaf Right?

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Here’s a topic of conversation that is sure to upset most premium tobacco users out there. Every year in Las Vegas there is an event called the Tobacco Plus Expo or TPE. This is a magnificent gathering of some heavy hitters in the tobacco and tobacco alternative lifestyles. Among the candidates this year of the premium tobacco industry were Michael Herklots of Nat Sherman International (he was one of the MC’s this year), Drew Estate with his showcase of Tabak Especials and Barnsmoker Program, Matt Booth of 101 cigars and jewelry, and a host of others. Now, why do I bring up this topic you may ask, it’s a tobacco event so what?

What I’m noticing through online social media, tobacco news websites, and visiting various shops is that this newer and younger generation have a variety of smoking alternatives to premium cigars for enjoyment. In this day and age our current local and state governments are raising the tobacco purchasing age, banning smoking in open parks, restaurants, and beaches, and everywhere else in this county. It just seems damn near impossible for us to enjoy a fine cigar anywhere anymore. Plus with the 90’s boom generation getting on in their thirties, the new 2000 kids are turning to a more fruity vape juice alternatives, or even CBD oil through an electronic “pen” to smoke. It seems we as a society are looking for a point of renewal and relaxation, but maybe don’t want the expense and hassle of cigar smoking. Vaping and oil pens are more discreet, are more flexible to smoke in private areas, and doesn’t take an hour and a half at a time to enjoy as a premium cigar. Plus it doesn’t leave that ashtray smell in your clothes all day.

Keep in mind, from a retailers standpoint though a profit is a profit. When I plan to open my own lounge someday I have to make a choice whether to gain a growing market share from selling alternative products in my store, or just stick to my premium tobacco and stay true to my lifestyle. It’s easy for me to make that decision tonight, but as a retailer seeing a spreadsheet of potential revenue can be persuasive.

That’s what the Tobacco Plus Expo is about, it’s about everyone’s right to enjoy their vice whether it’s a premium cigar or not. I think as this market shift for tolerance continues to grow, some of the trendsetters such as Jonathan Drew, Matt Booth, and E.P. Carrillo are finding out earlier than others. Now I’m not saying E.P. Carrillo is going to start selling his own line of vape liquid or CBD oil cartridges, but it appears that these premium tobacco brands are putting there pride aside and selling their product within an earshot of an alternative product. To some people a dollar is a dollar and I cannot fault any company for going after money, as long as they do not sacrifice their principles to get it. One of the best selling cigars in the world is the Acid Kuba Kuba. It’s a byproduct of Jonathan Drew's many creations and it’s an infused cigar. Usually a sweet “goma” or natural glue is adhered at the head of the cigar and tobacco is flavored in a proprietary and secret process. This cigar, albeit modified premium tobacco, appeals to the masses of people and Jonathan Drew is not ashamed to make a dollar or two from creating one of the best selling products in his portfolio.

My concern though is that we (and I’ve said this before) are begging the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate to exempt premium cigars from rules and regulations from the U.S.F.D.A as opposed to alternative tobacco products. The TPE event displays and showcases premium cigars next to Djarum Clove Cigarillos next to CBD oil cartridges, next to viles of vape juice. Isn’t that a little like showing a fake ID for a friend to get into a private club? We can all hang out together as friends in a giant living room, so to speak, but we want premium tobacco products to be exempt for regulations, but please go ahead and regulate everyone else because we’re different and have tobacco farms in third world countries. I’m sure it would be nice if the U.S.F.D.A left everyone the hell alone, premium tobacco or otherwise, but I believe either everyone get’s representation on the Senate floor or no one should. Otherwise, stop commingling with alternative products if they can’t enjoy the same privileages. If we are going to claim to be different, then be separate from them.

The way I see it if an argument is going to be made universally, is that either everyone have the right to “smoke”, or not. If the U.S.F.D.A. wants to put cigars under the umbrella of all tobacco and tobacco related products, then everyone should be allowed to enjoy whatever smoke producing vice they want. In my opinion the F.D.A has no business regulating shit about anyone’s smoking privileges. IF, however, premium cigar makers are going to make a case in Congress to have us exempt because we are different, then for God’s sake stop hanging out with alternative tobacco products on the showroom floor. It’s confusing and it only amplifies the Senate’s stance that we are no different then anyone else and we lose integrity in our campaign.

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