Call to Action, Part 2

CSP/Tobacco E-News Exclusive:
Call to Action, Part 2
R.J. Reynolds and Altria Client Services execs explain why your voice is important
– By Kelly Cushman of Altria Client Services and Dave Riser of R.J. Reynolds

You may tell yourself that you can’t make a difference in how tobacco issues are addressed in your area.

However, as a local business, large or small, and a valued member of your community, you play an important role in job creation and overall economic development in your state and localities—and you vote.

Your elected officials, at all levels of government, represent your interests, and they want and need to hear from you. Take the time to educate your legislators about how proposals they consider put pressure on your business and put jobs at risk in their district.

Remind them:

• You are a constituent. Begin a dialogue and open the door to a relationship with elected officials who represent you.

• You pay taxes. Retailers generally pay 30% to 40% of their net income in income taxes, in addition to real estate, sales and other taxes.

• You create jobs. The retail industry employs one in five American workers, providing critically important jobs in this economy.

So what can you do? There are a number of ways you can stay informed on policy issues and make your voice heard:

Build relationships. Know who your federal, state and local elected officials are and get to know them—and have them get to know you and your business. You can find out who your federal and state legislators are and how to contact them at www.tobaccoissues.com or www.NoCigTax.com.

Elected officials often attend local events, hold town meetings or set times for the public to visit with them. Take advantage of these opportunities to introduce yourself to your elected officials; they want to meet you.

Stay informed on issues. Monitor the news and visit websites such as those mentioned above and your trade association website for information on tobacco-related issues. You also can sign up for email alerts to know when tobacco-related legislation is proposed or up for action.

Make your voice heard. There are many other ways to express your views:

• Use earned media. One good way to let others know about important issues is to write a letter to the editor, respond online to a news piece or call in to a local radio show. You can also share your point of view using social media, such as posting your views on blogs, Facebook or Twitter.

• Vote. This is not a national election year, but many local bodies and some states have critical elections this year. Make sure you are registered to vote and that you vote on Election Day.

• Engage your customers. They also live and vote in your area. Let your customers know about issues such as proposed tobacco tax increases and encourage them to make their voices heard.

We expect to face continued challenges for the remainder of 2011 and beyond, as the economy remains in turmoil and state budgets continue to come up short. However, it’s important to remember that even though there are setbacks at times, there also are many successes along the way.

Retailers play a very large part in these successes by building and strengthening their relationships with legislators, making their opinions known, and speaking out against tobacco policies that negatively affect businesses and jobs.

Tobacco manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to work together to accomplish shared goals, whether on business matters or on public policy issues. While we as manufacturers stand ready to do our part to protect this industry, in many cases your local connection is the most important resource in the fight against unreasonable tobacco policy.

Our partnership starts with collaboration and staying connected. If there is something you need from us, let us know. If we can support your efforts in any way, let us know. If you need more information, let us know. Your involvement in this process is just as important as ours. It is up to all of us to engage in tobacco issues and protect our industry from adverse legislative or regulatory activity. Thank you for all you do. Together, we can make a difference.

About the Authors
Kelly Cushman is director, government affairs outreach program for Altria Client Services. Dave Riser is vice president of external relations—trade marketing for R.J. Reynolds.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a two-part series, excerpted from a popular article in the June issue of CSP magazine. For part one, please click here.

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