Why I Changed My Mind About Cigar Rights of America

Cigar Rights of America logo

On Wednesday, I joined Cigar Rights of America. This was a big departure for me. When CRA was first formed, I looked over the site, read other bloggers’ opinions, and listened to cigar podcasters talk about. And I found myself being unable to join.

I did not consider it to be a viable organization capable of achieving their stated goals. I got in several discussions on various cigar message boards about whether or not to join CRA. Some of them got down right heated. Some people were of opinion that you should just join, and they will figure it out later. I didn’t think that way. Here’s what I wrote almost a year ago:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Cigar Rights of America and how they intend to accomplish their goals. And unfortunately, I can’t seem to find what exactly it is they plan to do to achieve those goals. Who is running the day-to-day operations? I can’t find any sort of board of directors listed, much less the actual head of the organization. They have been very big in touting their affiliation with the large manufacturers including (but not excluding) Fuente, Padron, CAO, Rocky Patel, Torano, Camacho, and many, many others. But what is their involvement outside of the tour? Are they donating money or resources also? Their web site is underwhelming with very little real information besides what they hope to achieve. I would wholeheartedly endorse and support the organization if they could just provide a plan. The groups that are trying to keep us from our basic personal rights and freedoms are exceedingly well organized and committed. I would like to see the same from the CRA. They’ll need to be to win. September 8, 2008

As you can tell, I was pretty passionate about the subject. Having attended some workshops on campaign organization and grassroots fundraising, I was discouraged by the lack of long-term plans (or at least the lack of revealing it to the cigar smokers it was trying to recruit), and even simple things such as the structure of the organization. And I can’t say I was the only person to feel this way. Several of my fellow brothers and sisters of the leaf expressed the same reservations. Especially when it was revealed that the membership form wasn’t encrypted at first, and credit card information could possibly be exposed. Luckily that was quickly remedied.

Over at Cigar Weekly, one of the members started a poll last September to see who had joined. Out of 48 responses, 42 either said no or they hadn’t heard of it. That was roughly 3 months after they had launched the CRA. When the poor results came back, the member who started to poll got angry and demanded to know why. In addition to my above comments, I posted this:

If you are trying to influence lawmakers, why isn’t Washington, DC on the tour? Chicago, New York, and Orlando I get. Milwaukee and Minneapolis I don’t. Too close to Chicago, and the West Coast is totally ignored.

The tour CRA put together with some of the biggest names in the industry such as Jorge Padron, Rocky Patel, Carlito Fuente, and Nick Perdomo. Smokers were enticed by event-only cigars, and to see their favorite “cigar stars.” I know the purpose of the tour was a membership drive and influence lawmakers. The problem is, they avoided Washington, DC of all places. They also ignored the west coast, where some of the most onerous anti-smoking laws are in place. I just didn’t get it. It all sounded good, but I didn’t see how it would be sustainable in the long run. The cigar manufacturers were on the tour and pushing the organization, but what was their involvement beyond the tour? Where they donating time, money, people, or all three to the organization? This comment I wrote probably summed up my feelings the best:

I do want CRA to succeed. I want them to stand up for our personal property rights and freedoms to choose as adults. I just want them to tell me how. I don’t think that is too much to ask. I’ve been to a few political activism training sessions. One of the first things they tell you is “If you tell people you want to change something, you better be prepared to tell them how.”

A year later, I can now say that my concerns over Cigar Rights of America have been resolved, and I can fully support the organization.

Why I Support CRA Now

So what changed in CRA to get me to be a member? Two things.

1. An organizational structure with a grassroots support system

Last year, the CRA site did not have an organizational structure posted. Today, their structure is well defined on the About Us page along with biographies for the CRA Executive team of J. Glynn Loope (Executive Director) and Brian Berman (Director of Membership). The board of directors is also spelled out, and is comprised of 10 members who are either cigar manufacturers or owners of large retail establishments.

The second part of this, and the part that I think can have the most influence, is a grassroots system of CRA Ambassadors and retail tobacconists to bring the message to the smokers who aren’t like you and I (read: obsessed), and read blogs, participate in message boards, listen to podcasts, and get on Twitter. Cigar smokers are a minority of a minority. And the hardcore smokers who have heard of CRA so far are not necessarily the ones that need to be convinced that something must be done about the oppressive, Prohibition-like laws that are being pushed onto us. It’s your average smoker who buys a couple of sticks a week to smoke with his brother or best friend or golfing buddies. By bringing local retailers into the fold, they allow for the cigar smoker’s best friend, their tobacconist, to communicate with people on a one-to-one level that the Web, as wonderful a medium as it is, simply cannot do. The CRA Ambassador system takes this notion one step further. CRA Ambassadors are members of the organization who want to go that extra step, and really evangelize and promote CRA. Members can go onto the Web site and apply to become Ambassadors. This gives CRA dedicated people in each state to fight local and state legislation that would be harmful to our right as adults to choose, as well as provide another avenue to boost membership.

2. An improved Web site

Last year CRA’s site was jumbled, lacking information, and presented an image that, in my opinion, should have been avoided. The form to become a member wasn’t easy to find, and the credit card processing was not initially secure. I could not find the organizational structure or mission, as I mentioned earlier. The news page contained more stories about Europe and Asia than it did the United States. And the imagery used was not the face that I think should be projected. If you ask most people their image of a cigar smoker, they will describe some version of a middle-aged white man in a Brooks Brothers suit and a Rolex, sitting in the back room of his private country club and puffing on a 9 inch cigar laughing with his similarly attired friends while a comely waitress in a short skirt serves them extra-dry martinis. In the early days of CRA’s site, you’d find photos to that effect. Lots of older white men in their forties and fifties in tuxedos, and images on curvy women. Now, you will find a photo gallery comprised of user-submitted photos depicting the large cross section of the population that cigar smokers comprise: young and old, men and women, all races, and all socioeconomic levels. People too easily dismiss cigars as a rich man’s habit rather than an affordable luxury, and it’s important for non-smokers to see that before condemning cigar smokers without a second thought. The new gallery really helps push that new perception. The rest of the site has also been updated for the better. The mission is clearly spelled out, along with how pervasive anti-smoking regulations have become, and why we need to act now. The buttons to take you to the membership page are prominent and easy to find on every page. The news stories now focus on the U.S., and are even broken down by state so you can easily see what is affecting you on a local level. Contact information is displayed for easy reference. CRA Ambassadors and retail members can easily be looked up to inquire for more information. CRA has also expanded to social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter. To fight the multi-headed beast that is anti-smoking legislation, you have to have an effective platform to coordinate your plan of attack, and the CRA Web site now provides that platform.

The march to 100,000…

After seeing all the changes over the past year of the organization, I can whole wholeheartedly endorse Cigar Rights of America. Some might say, “Why didn’t you support them from the beginning? Any new organization is going to have growing pains, and they could have used your support from the word go.” Quite frankly, I think we deserve better. Not just from organizations such as CRA, but from our elected officials and civil leaders. Too often we put our blind trust into people, believing that there are “better men for the job.” If we do not demand more from our leaders and ourselves, we will continue in the political stalemate that currently exists in this country, where better ideas and facts are too often shouted down by the wrong ideas and misinformation that are just presented longer and louder. We need to get our message out there. I believe CRA can help do that. So, please, go join Cigar Rights of America (right now, you even get 2 free cigars for joining), and help them reach their goal of 100,000 members, so that we may protect our personal freedom to smoke.

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Comments

I am still thinking about it – I feel like joining just to be a sheep and follow everyone else. I still havent figured out WHAT they have actually done – SChip passed, @ChiefHava posted multiple times about the crap in Gavelston Texas and I still see nothing being done.

I will probably join for a year just to see what happens, but I really hope they start to make PUBLIC differences so everyone can make an informed decision.

Mike

and NO – I do not want to start a fight about what I said…I just stated my opinion about NEVER hearing about ANYTHING cra has done – I am a noob, so point me in the right direction rather than flaming and throwing insults.

Charlie, this is a well written article. Nice job!

In terms of the message, Mike, I am with you. I just recently joined but with serious hesitation. I too wonder what CRA has done or will do to stop government. I hope they can do something, but my fear is that this organization has started too late in the game and has too little to fight the good fight. I mean nothing discourages me more that hearing CRA report from IPCPR that the first SCHIP is just the very tip of the iceberg. I’m not convinced, based on its actions thus far, that CRA can keep any further SCHIP taxes from passing.

And I also agree with your assessment at the local level Mike. All we seem to hear about is a new, more restrictive smoking ban passing. Where is the CRA in this?

I joined CRA so that I could say that at least I did something to help it in its fight. I just hope that all the years of the cigar industry sitting on its hands in regard to legislation has not doomed the industry. I mean the whole time that congress was hammering the cigarette industry with tax after tax, it sure seems like the cigar industry would have done more to mobilize an effort of their own in preparation for the day government came knocking on its door. Once that knock came, it may have been too late. I hope not, and that’s why I joined CRA. But I too am not sold hook line and sinker like so many others in the online community. Please CRA prove me wrong, until then I will continue to reevaluate my membership each year based on your production as an organization.

Charlie: Much respect. It takes a big man to write a post like that.
It also shows critical thinking on your part. Unlike you most people(IMHO) don’t join for one of 2 reasons:
1)”I can’t afford it.” or 2)”What’s in it for me?”.
If you want an answer to those two excuses just look at what SCHIP did to us. “I can’t afford” Oh Yeah! What is the cost of non-membership – per stick – post SCHIP. “What’s in it for me?” How about personal freedom. Look at what’s been going on in Texas for years with the Anti Smoking movement there.
We need strong leaders like CRA and the NiceTightAsh & the StogieReview crews to step up. People will follow leaders. I hereby throw your name into nomination for CRA Ambassador.
Oh that’s right I am not a member yet. Next paycheck!!

I believe that CRA is doing a better job and is now actively working on keeping our rights to smoke cigars safer. I am going to join and because of where I live in Pa I am going to apply to become an Ambassador. Mainly because I am tired of seeing our rights taken away on a daily basis. They want to pass a local law in town (Milford) that takes our rights away from smoking in public parks, they already did in Luzerne County in West Pittston. I think that is taking bans way too far and because of this I believe that everybody reading this article needs to join also.

great write up , as soon as i get the 500 im becoming a life member. for sure and for certian, better spent on this than another 2 boxes of cigars.

I am amazed how you described some of my own reservations with joining the CRA. I too recently changed my mind and joined, as well as applying to become an ambassador. Yesterday I was lucky enough to have been selected as the first CRA ambassador in the Denver metro area. This organization is getting better all the time and I am excited to be a part of it. Thanks for the post Charlie!

Let me say great article and welcome to the fight.

For those who still wondering what CRA will do for you let me say you’re thinking the wrong way. Its not what CRA can do for you. CRA is a rally point for us to come together and fight for our rights. CRA is a tool for us to use to share information, coordinate, network and provide resources to fight. Like any tool, its only as good as the person/people using it. Its not about what CRA will do, but its about how strongly We are willing to fight with our voices, pocket book and our vote on every level.

The crap in Galveston was sad. Retailers thought they had a deal and took the hearing for granted without even showing up. Thats where the ball was dropped.

Nicely said, Chuck. I felt the same way about the site when I first saw it but hesitated to speak out since I was working part-time for a great guy at his chain of cigar shops.

Thanks for the update and I’ll get back on the Cigar Rights site and sign up this week.

Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback.

To build on Jerry’s comments, it is not solely about what CRA does for us. It’s how we and CRA work together. As a newer organization, membership is low and spread out across the country. The organization itself should provide the tools and resources to combat things in our area. In the past, CRA has mentioned they have patterned themselves after the National Rifle Association. I would love to see a detailed document with the arguments our opponents will use against us, and the counterarguments we can use to counteract that. That is one area the NRA is top-notch. Post the information on the site, and spread it to the ambassadors and retailers to give to customers. Only acting when being faced by a threat will get you nowhere. You need to be prepared in advance to meet these things, and then follow through on them. As Jerry mentioned, complacency kills. The other guys have their marching orders already. We can’t be caught still tying our shoelaces while they are in a city councilman or Congressman’s or Senator’s ear. It is our duty to fight against the efforts, but it is CRA’s duty to provide us with the means to do it.

At IPCPR they mentioned that they will be releasing a similar document like the NRA does on who our biggest supporters are, our biggest enemies, etc, on all levels. Keep in mind that the NRA has been around for 125 years, CRA is on year 2. CRA needs more than just us members but retailers too. Out of some 3,000+ retailers in the US, only a few hundred are CRA supporters.

Jerry I can agree only to a certain extent. Any organization that requires you to pay a fee must do something for the money. Being a place for us to rally is not enough. The NRA is a strong powerful voice in congress (lobbying). It’s a strong powerful voice backed by a great, vocal, membership. We need that in the cigar industry. The CRA, I thought, was designed to do the same for cigar smokers. If not, what am I paying for then?

And make no mistake, it’s not all about money. I am not content with just paying $40 bucks and letting the CRA fight all the battles alone. We as individuals have to step up to the plate and fight for out rights as cigar smokers too, but we as individuals can only do so much. There must be a strong central voice that speaks for the group, but the group MUST be vocal as well.

So yes, it is about what CRA can do for us. If all CRA is designed to do is provide us a place to come together, we can do that via Twitter, or any number of other outlets for free. Think about it, we don’t need a pay service to come together and fight for our rights. We don’t need a pay service to share information, coordinate, network, and provide each other resources to fight. That information should be free to everyone who wants to fight for cigar rights and the availability should not depend on whether you can afford or are willing to pay $40 a year. My understanding was that the $40 was to help provide funding to a non-profit organization that was designed to lead the fight and be the central voice for cigar smokers.

So if the CRA’s official position is that the fight is in our hands and they’ll just provide us the tools to fight the fight, then I think we have all been sold a bill of goods. Because my understanding of the CRA is drastically different than your understanding. I joined the CRA because I thought they were going to lead the fight not just provide the tools for us to fight for ourselves. I hope I am right.

Irish Mike, you make valid points. However the NRA is not a free site. They have membership fee as well. While they are more organized the CRA you have to start somewhere. The points you make about CRA could be applied to NRA to an extent, Gun Owners, who number much more than Cigar Smokers could band together and by pass the NRA. You are right membership alone is not the answer. Active membership is key.

Mike – my point was simply that CRA will be what we make of it. You can’t pay your $35 and expect CRA to do the rest. Its going to take more than just throwing money at it. Its going to take us all to fight.

Kick ass! This is just what we needed. An honest evaluation and discussion. Frank Herrera, editor of Cigarlaw.com, new CRA Ambassador, and owner of La Caridad Del Cobre Cigars.

Great article Charlie, and it brings up some valid points. I’ve joined CRA recently in order to show support for the cause, and read their newsletters when I receive them.

I would like to see more information not only on what the issues are that we are facing as cigar smokers, but where the CRA is active in fighting against those goals.

No matter your stance on the CRA, this article provides some great information on what people should look for before joining an organization.

Bill – I understand that the NRA is a membership fee based organization. That’s kind of my whole point. If I am paying CRA they better provide me with similar services as the NRA. And I am not saying we should bypass the CRA. What I’m saying is that for the membership fee they need to provide us with leadership in this fight, not just the tools to fight for ourselves, we can get those for free. Will the CRA ever be the NRA, nope but it is a nice model to follow.

Jerry – I understand where you are coming from brother. I think we all have the same goal. And I agree, this is not something we can just throw cash at and hope it goes away. We have to stand up and be heard. In the end we may or may not win the fight, but if we stand on the sideline without saying a word, we are sunk. My point is we need CRA leading us into the fight.

Great comments and help guys! thanx!

Jerry – I like the idea of having a central launching pad, but i was just hoping they would already have a rocket parked there ;) If you know what I mean.

I think, just like the NRA, it will get to the point or lobbying and such. I guess I did not realize how young the organization was nor the fact that they are not fighting for us (per se) but they are going to give us tools to fight for ourselves. I just hope someone with a louder voice and more pull than just consumers will be there to lead us ;)

Mike

I think I will be joining for a year to how the information and such comes along! I couldnt come up with the lifetime $500 anyway, hell thats almost my whole disability check for a month ;) and i need to buy cigars damn you =)

I have been in the fight for smokers rights and taxes for a long time. I have observed the division of cigar smokers from pipe and cigarette smokers. Where everyone once accepted or at least tolerated our cigarette smoking friends and relatives. The anti tobacco jihad started on cigarettes and cigaretee smokers and cigar and pipe smokers blindly voted to tax and ban them, always feeling they were better.

If cigar and pipe smokers do not change their attitudes and voting habits, and allow other smokers to partake of their tobacco product of choice, we too are doomed to more taxes and more bans on cigar smokers as well. The anti tobacco cartel sees all smoking as a souces of revenue and a means of controling the smoking population.

This of course is just my $.02. If all smokers/tobacco users could be formed into a voting block, we would be as powerful as the NRA.
Jan

I forgot to mention excellent and timely article.

Merry Meet to all!
I appreciate the main article and all the intelligent responses. I can now make a more intelligent decision about joining CRA.Thank you very much!

Love and Gratitude~

Two Mikes – I don’t want it to sound like CRA isn’t going to fight. I was just making the point that CRA will only fight as hard as We are willing to. CRA will speak as loud as long as We give them Our voice..

Jerry, yet another good point. Cigar smokers and the industry have been ducking and running from the issues for a long time. Those in high tax states mail order, those in smoking ban states smoke at home or at the golf course instead of supporting thier local shops efforts to get a smoke shop exemption or fight for lower taxes.

An organization of manufacturers needs the support of their customers to be successful in thier lobbying efforts. It takes more than just paying dues and joining.

[...] Why I Changed My Mind About Cigar Rights of America nicetightash.com/cigar-rights-of-america – view page – cached On Wednesday, I joined Cigar Rights of America. This was a big departure for me. When CRA was first formed, I found myself being unable to join. — From the page [...]

I just joined CRA :)

Well thanks for the article and all the comments on here. I just joined up a few minutes ago thanks to all of your information.

[...] but before I do that I want to give a shout-out to Charlie from Nice Tight Ash. He has an awesome article about Cigar Rights of America and there is some very interesting discussion going on under the post, be sure to join in on the [...]

[...] This post was Twitted by CoronaCigarCo [...]

[...] many of my cigar blogging peers (A Cigar Smokers Journal, Smoke Signals, Nice Tight Ash and many others) I have waffled back and forth on the validity of such an organization. Cigar [...]

In the grand pattern of things you actually get an A for effort. Where you lost me ended up being on the facts. As they say, the devil is in the details… And that could not be much more accurate right here. Having said that, allow me say to you what did do the job. The article (parts of it) is incredibly powerful and that is most likely why I am taking an effort in order to opine. I do not really make it a regular habit of doing that. Second, while I can easily see the leaps in reason you make, I am definitely not certain of exactly how you appear to unite the details that produce your conclusion. For the moment I will, no doubt subscribe to your issue but trust in the foreseeable future you actually link your dots much better.

Wow… just wow… you stole the words right out of my mouth. I too not only stayed away from joining, and at one point was telling others it was a waste. But in the past few months the organization really stepped up its game and has in my new opinion made a definite impact on out government officials.

I do a lot of writing, blogging, and video in the cigar world and I got asked many times why I wasn’t supporting CRA. It actually started about a year ago when I was a guest on the Ron & Fez show on Sirius XM Radio, given an hour slot to talk about cigar issues, particularly the raising of the tobacco tax to 75% in New York State. Two weeks before my appearance I sent an email to Glynn Loope
letting him know who I was and that I needed some really good ammo from the CRA to make my spot on the radio a great one. He didn’t return the message. I emailed again… FaceBooked him, then got his number and left a message a couple of days before the show… but no return call.

Ten days AFTER my show appearance I got an email from Glynn saying he was busy and apologized. Here I was on a radio show that would repeat several times during the week reaching over a million listeners and … he was busy. I was pretty pissed off at his apathy and it REALLY left a bad taste in my mouth towards the CRA. But a year later, their gallant efforts to fight the FDA have really turned me around and I now feel it’s crucial for every cigar smoker to join this organization.

Nice blog, my brother.

- Tommy Z.

I have attended two events at a local tobacco retailer. Neither event offered a chance to join CRA at the event. I have since joined CRA and encourage all cigar smokers to join. We can’t let the government take another right from us without a good fight. Our personal freedoms are once again under attack and we must take action. Spread the word about CRA and keep contacting your local and state reps. This is important to us all.

I still don’t believe one should have to pay to voice one’s opinion so I made a petition that, hopefully, will show our solidarity on this issue. Please read and sign it at http://www.change.org/petitions/prevent-the-fda-from-encroaching-upon-the-rights-of-american-citizens
Send it to friends and family as well. We need freedom and not restrictions!

It’s hard to find knowledgeable people about this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

As a promoter of the Cigar Lifestyle, I joined the CRA at the Big Smoke 3 years ago (or so). I do not take my right to enjoy a fine cigar for granted.

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