Virginia Tobacconists Say Liberals, Conservatives Should Unite

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Virginia legislators are considering a prohibition on smoking in public places. Liberals and conservatives have a reason to unite against this proposed legislation.

If liberals favor freedom of choice and conservatives opt for open markets, then why would anyone favor legislation currently proposed by some members of the Virginia legislature to prohibit smoking in places like restaurants, private clubs and places of work?

That's the question being posed to legislators by two leading Virginia tobacconists and other Commonwealth members of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR). As independent businessmen, they view such proposed legislation as not only threatening their businesses but, more importantly, their rights and the rights of their customers.

George (Shorty) Koebel owns Havana Connections with five stores throughout Virginia* and Gary Pesh has the Old Virginia Tobacco Company with seven**. Over two dozen more IPCPR members own and operate some 30 additional retail stores. On average, 22 percent of their off-site sales are to bars and restaurants.

"Two-thirds of all Virginia restaurants already are smoke-free while one-third choose to allow smoking," said Koebel. "That's their right as much as it is the right of their customers to choose where they want to dine and of their employees to choose where they work."

Koebel claims that scientific evidence fails to support the misplaced belief that incidental exposure to second-hand smoke can have consequences. He maintains that chronic exposure is a far cry from the occasional whiff or two one might experience in a bar or lounge. Virginia restaurant owners have taken great measures to protect patrons from smoke, while designing environments for those wishing to enjoy perfectly legal tobacco products."

"All the scientific evidence in the world - including the Surgeon General's report - indicates that incidental exposure to second-hand smoke isn't going to make one whit of difference to that customer's health," Koebel said.

"That said, the government - local, state or federal - shouldn't even think about impinging on the rights of restaurant or other business owners to choose whether their businesses are smoke-free or not," Koebel said. "Pro-choice liberals and open-market conservatives should agree on that, if nothing else."

Pesh agrees and points out that the marketplace is working, so the legislature should let it be.

"It's all about choice - you should have a choice if you own a business as to whether or not smoking would be allowed in your place of business and you should have a choice if you are a consumer as to whether or not you wish to patronize a place of business that is smoker-friendly," said Pesh.

"Has the world gone mad?" Pesh asks. "We're trying to find solutions for which there are no problems."

Pesh noted that premium cigars are the economic staple of IPCPR tobacconists who are pillars of their communities, often raising funds for local and national charities.

"Premium cigars are hand-made, adult products that help make ordinary moments special and special moments extraordinary," said Pesh. "As professional tobacconists running small, often marginal businesses, we are all susceptible to even minor downturns in our businesses. That means jobs are at stake and even our very businesses - livelihoods that in many cases have spanned several generations - are at risk when tobacco taxes are raised or consumption is restricted in locations that traditionally have allowed smoking over the years."

Many tobacconists conduct off-premise fund-raising events in their communities. Such events would be at significant risk of no longer being able to be held in neighborhood restaurants.
"Such are the unintended consequences of ill-conceived legislation," Pesh concluded.

About IPCPR:

The International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association is the oldest and largest trade association representing and assisting retail tobacconists. Members represent over 2,000 retail stores throughout the world selling tobacco products and accessories - premium cigars, tobacco pipes, loose tobacco, cigar and pipe accessories and gift items. In addition, more than 350 manufacturers, distributors and service providers of high quality merchandise are members of IPCPR.

Following are Virginia members of IPCPR:

George Koebel*
Havana Connections
     Midlothian (2)
     Richmond (2)
     Williamsburg, VA

Gary Pesh**
Old Virginia Tobacco Company
     Falls Church
     Woodbridge, VA

William Johnson
Leesburg Cigar & Pipe
Leesburg, VA

John B. Hayes
John B. Hayes Tobacconist
Fairfax, VA

Dr. Paul Garmirian
McLean Cigars PG Boutique
McLean, VA

Daniel & Susan Geller
John Crouch Tobacconist
Alexandria, VA

Dana Nielsen
Fredercksburg Gifts & Tobacco
Fredericksburg, VA

Neil & Barbara Mayhew
Select Leaf Tobacco Shop
Stafford, VA

Mathew Hayes
John B. Hayes Tobacconist of Winchester
Winchester, VA

Louis H. Weatherholtz, Jr.
The Smokehaus
Woodstock, VA

Brian & Sarah Thomas
B & B Tobacco LLC
Harrisonburg, VA

Jack Martinez
Tobacconist Inc.
Charlottesville, VA

J. Wayne Thornton
Private Stock Cigar Co.
Richmond, VA

Mike Banks
Herf House Cigars
Richmond, VA

D. E. Chadbourn
Emerson's of Norfolk
Chesapeake, VA

P. J. Daly
P. J. Baggan
Virginia Beach, VA

Al M. Harb
Smoke Shack
     Virginia Beach (2), VA

Robin Ray
Atlantic Dominion District Cigar Store
Virginia Beach, VA

Tim Hammond, Ray Morriest
TR's Enterprises, Inc.
Norfolk, VA

Louise Berrane
Berrane Enterprises, Inc.
Yorktown, VA

William Wiatt
Pop's Coffee and Tobacco, Inc.
Yorktown, VA

Mahmoud Alazzam
Tabb Tobacco
Tabb, VA

Renee Meyer
Milan Tobacconists, Inc.
Roanoke, VA

Joe Nazare
Blacksburg Pipe & Tobacco
Blacksburg, VA

Chris & Melissa Jones
Sidetrack Tobacco
Bristol, VA


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