National Advisory Group (NAG) Executive Director John Lofstock opened the eighth and final session of the 2020 NAG/YEO Virtual Conference with a thank you to all of the attendees as well as panelists who, despite the obstacles presented by the pandemic, came together to learn and to educate over an eight-week period.
The session, Critical Tobacco Update: Local Restrictions to FDA Regulations, presented by Tom Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), covered the full array of tobacco market regulation at all levels of government.
The most complicated topic of Briant’s presentation seemed to be his explanation of the hurdles product manufacturers face when bringing new products to market. Meeting the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not a small task. The ins and outs of regulatory compliance — which products have which original introduction dates, which are grandfathered into previous regulations, which are not-tobacco products but still regulated as such, original deadlines vs. revised deadlines, exemptions for roll-your-own tobacco and premium cigars and pipe tobacco, PMTA application process, etc. — borders on the dizzying.
That ‘s probably Briant’s point. Manufacturers have an awful lot of Ts to cross and Is to dot. Briant outlined how convenience retailers can work with their distributors in verifying whether a new product is approved for sale by the FDA.
He also covered the proposed new health warnings that may land on the packaging of tobacco products and why those efforts have stalled, including the tobacco manufacturers’ successful legal challenges based upon freedom of speech rights.
State of the States
Next, Briant presented a handful of slides that simplified the numerous state-level efforts to ban flavors, add cigarette/tobacco taxes and suppress or ban vaping products. He pointed out that while anti-tobacco industry forces in those states have been formulating legislation for some time, the realities of the pandemic and depressed tax revenues will influence changes to those proposals.
NATO, Briant’s organization, has been busy engaging state legislative leaders on the negative effects of higher taxes on essential businesses weathering a pandemic, as well as helping its members do the same with their respective lawmakers in statehouses.
At the local level, Briant advised retailers to stay involved and in touch with local legislators and other businesses to court hometown lawmakers, to show them how actions at City Hall can bring unintended consequences, hurting small businesses on Main Street.
He presented a slide with a breakdown of local ordinances by state and status, bringing clarity to what at first look seems extremely confusing.
On the whole, Briant’s message was for convenience retailers to stay engaged with local and state officials. Their businesses draw substantial revenues from tobacco-related products. Use reason and explanation, he urged, as tools of helping inform governmental policies at all levels.
NATO, said Briant, has several methods of assisting retailers in those efforts. He described how NATO’s National Response Network (NRN) increases retailers’ ability to respond to local ordinances through more than 70 state and national partners, ordinance alerts and opportunities to engage with lawmakers.
He also described how the National Local Advocacy Alliance (NLAA) uses grassroots methods to help retailers stay abreast of issues as well as participate in the municipal process at street level.
Briant’s command of the industry, market and regulatory horizon is truly remarkable; and he presents it in a staid, sober manner of expertise with a kitchen table demeanor that makes the more complicated issues easier to follow. A great choice to close out the conference.
Critical Tobacco Update: Local Restrictions to FDA Regulations concluded the eight-session 2020 NAG/YEO Virtual Conference. To review the entire eight-session agenda, visit https://nagconvenience.com/virtual-series-agenda/. For on-demand access to all sessions visit the NAG/YEO Virtual 2020 On Demand page.