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If you Care about the

A promising new conference seeks a meaningful response to ani-tobacco policy.

By Luc Martial

I had the sincere pleasure of attending and speaking at the 1st International Smokers' Rights Conference this past June (27-29). Organized by the Smokers' Club, Inc. and held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, this three-day conference brought together an eclectic lineup of speakers throughout Canada, the U.S, Europe, and Africa. Equally impressive, the conference provided much-needed overview and discussion of an even more eclectic array of topics that included: smoking bans, property rights issues, smoking and civil rights issues, grassroots activism, the tobacco control movement, the smokers' movement, reduced ignition propensity cigarettes, public policy analysis, and tax reform.

I really wasn't certain what to expect when I first agreed to attend and share my experiences in tobacco control with this particular group. My professional history on the "tobacco file," now rounding 14 years, had since taught me that many such advocacy groups (smokers' rights as well as anti-tobacco) were unfortunately too often narrow-minded in their views, too extreme in their messaging, uninformed, unprepared, and in the end simply inaccessible to governments, the media, and the public. How relieved I was to eventually find that history would not be repeating itself - at least not with this group and not at this conference.

As I entered the convention room, I was greeted by Samantha Phillipe, the group's head honcho, so to speak. Samantha is the type of individual who somehow, unbelievably, keeps everything well-oiled and working. In my years of attending, speaking at, and/or simply helping to organize tobacco control conferences throughout the world, I have often encountered key individuals like her. These are the rare types of people who bring an unparalleled level of commitment and energy to getting things done. And they are usually the only reason why things get done. The conference participants who I met also proved quite eloquent in their speech and committed to protecting their rights on what they were more than willing to acknowledge was a controversial product and issue. Of the speakers I heard, again, how refreshing it was to finally have meaningful and open dialogue on many of the issues the anti-tobacco groups worldwide have since convinced governments to strategically ignore and/or matter-of-factly dismiss. The media in attendance was equally impressive, and I had the opportunity to discuss tobacco control issues with journalists who proved welcoming, open-minded, and sincere in their task.

In the most basic and relevant way, this smokers' rights conference was quite reminiscent of the many national and international tobacco control conferences I had attended over the last decade. It was well-planned, well-delivered, and well-needed - period. For those who seldom get to see behind the scenes, it's important to remember that government-funded anti-tobacco groups regularly budget over $1 million per conference. Consequently, the usual pomp and pageantry was obviously absent due to the Smokers' Club, Inc.'s comparatively paltry conference budget. That being said, this conference's atmosphere was never suggestive of a shoestring budget, just a practical one. Still, greater funding support to the group and an eventual second conference (with workshops) would go a long way toward expanding and hurrying the smokers' rights agenda; assisting international experts in attending; providing much-needed access to a broader base of participants; and finally, securing an influential voice in government for your customers and other supporters.

To be truly useful to you (in my professional opinion), this article needs to emphasize Smokers Club, Inc.'s credibility, capability, and need for funding or assistance. Industry stakeholders now need to start showing their customers the same level of loyalty, support, and commitment their customers have shown them throughout these many challenging anti-tobacco years.

Suffice to say that I left the conference quite encouraged and motivated to continue in my own endeavors - towards more accountable public policies on tobacco. Interestingly enough, at the subsequent RTDA show in New Orleans (August), I was again made relevantly aware of how demoralized industry stakeholders had become - as a result of the anti-tobacco movement's success these many years and the incessant personal attacks against the private sector. This re-confirmed for me the crucial need for groups like The Smokers' Club, Inc., to exist - and for meetings like the 1st International Smokers' Rights Conference, to materialize. My hope is that their impressive efforts to date will not be underestimated by the industry and allowed to go unrecognized and/or unrewarded.

In terms of value-added insight into this remarkable group, The Smokers' Club, Inc. was incorporated more than ten years ago. While there are no formal chapters or membership lists, the organization's reach firmly stretches across the U.S. and beyond its borders. A quick look at their website confirms their notably comprehensive agenda, as well as their coalition- and capacity-building abilities. Their current resources further provide for chat rooms, discussion forums, and The United Pro Choice Smokers' Rights Newsletter. With more than 150 million yearly hits to their website, the organization is now also considering getting its own server and subsequently becoming a non-profit organization.

When opportunity knocks
Your ability to effectively protect your business interests has always been directly linked to your clients' ability to legally purchase and consume your products. Now more than ever, their ability to purchase and consume your products is becoming directly linked to their ability to have a credible voice within government and the media. Therein rests the reasoning and opportunity before you. Supporting their activities, through direct financial assistance or in-kind-contribution, would go a long way into finally leveling the playing field on the tobacco agenda in government for them - as well as for you.

For my part, I will continue to assist as best I can, helping the Smokers' Club, Inc. to better understand the pitfalls of advocacy on the tobacco control file (e.g. use of particular language, coalition-building strategies, capacity-building activities, etc.). My commitment will remain for as long as the group will want my involvement or until we no longer have any more common ground.

If you care about your business, take a few minutes and look through their website and more specifically the section recapping the smokers' rights conference in question. If you like what you see, email Ms. Phillipe and ask her about their agenda, the group's planned activities over the coming year, and how you can help in finally securing accountable public policies on tobacco. This is an opportunity you cannot afford to miss.

Everything you need to know about The Smoker's Club, Inc. and the conference proceedings and findings can be easily found at the group's website or by communicating with Samantha Phillipe.

The Smoker's Club, Inc., PO Box 814, Center Conway, NH 03813-0814, Tel/Fax: (207) 925-6566, Email: info@smokersclub.com, Web: www.smokersclub.com.

SMOKESHOP - October, 2005

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