H.R. 4439 – Dead?

dont_tread_on_me Well, seems there is some good new swirling around our little community. It appears that all of the efforts by the pipe smoking community and others may have paid off. The following is a bulletin straight from the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) dated today, Feb. 26, 2010 (Thank You Smokers Forum for bringing this to my attention):

"At this time, H.R. 4439, proposed federal legislation to increase the pipe tobacco tax to the same rate of the RYO tax, has little life or attention in Congress. Lobbyists from the IPCPR the Pipe Tobacco Council (a division of the Cigar Association of America (CAA)), and others have met with key members of Congress to discuss and detail our industry’s opposition to the bill. H.R. 4439 is currently sitting in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways & Means Committee. No hearings or further action has been scheduled at this time nor do we expect any immediate action. Several more meetings are scheduled with Congress in the coming days. "

It seems evident that FOR THE MOMENT, we can continue on in our hobby without fear of being taxed to death. I do urge everyone to continue to be diligent, keep abreast of all that is happening. I think we need to look at this as a lesson that complacency could lead to our downfall. Gone are the days that we can relax with our pipes and puff away without a care in the world. If we want to continue that puffing, we need to be ready for the next attack, and rest assured, there will be another.

You can keep your eyes peeled here for more information, though I know this particular tidbit circulated long before I got a chance to mention it.

s“CHIP” off the old block? – H.R. 4439

storefront I had the pleasure to talk with Jeff Steinbock from Uhles Tobacco Company of Wisconsin to get an inside perspective on the new Tax Parity Act H.R. 4439. Jeff was a natural choice. Uhles Tobacco Company has been part of the Wisconsin culture since 1939, serving retail customers and offering products wholesale to Brick & Mortar stores around the country. Jeff bought the business with his brother in 1982, and several years ago became sole owner when his brother retired. Jeff said he’s been in the business since he was 19, and, as he is a pipe and cigar smoker, there can be no better person at the helm of such a well-known company. Although pipe tobacco forms the bulk of the operation, Uhles also has a wide selection of cigars and other products for the discriminating smoker.

Jeff and I talked quite a bit about the new Tax Parity Act and how he thought this was going to affect the individual pipe smokers. Jeff agrees that the price increase is going to be a major hardship, stating that this was going to be a massive increase the likes of which we have never seen before. Citing the Wisconsin market specifically, he explained the breakdown of the tax. If a pound of tobacco cost him $20 now, it would cost him $45 per pound after adding the new tax. Now, in Wisconsin, he explains that their OTP (Other Tobacco Products) Tax adds another 71% on the TOTAL, not onto the original cost of the tobacco. It’s important to remember this is all before Jeff must figure in his costs, packaging, labor, etc. One of the important questions that Jeff raises is about the “tax on tax” situation. In Wisconsin, the OTP tax is actually taxing the Federal tax and Jeff questions the constitutionality of this. It’s something he thinks could possibly provide a little relief if it is fought.

I was quite surprised to hear Jeff’s anticipated timeframe for this law. He thinks we could see this go into effect by April, just in time for the Anniversary of the passing of SCHIP. SCHIP added the RYO (Roll-Your-Own) tax, which ultimately led to our current dilemma when RYO companies repackaged their products as pipe tobacco to avoid higher tax rates. It was clear to Jeff that this isn’t something that is going to wait until next year or the year after — it is going to be quick. This is a small amendment and can be snuck into a larger bill without much issue.

I threw a curve at Jeff with my next question, wanting to know his opinion on the RYO Industry labeling its product as pipe tobacco, so I asked him if they screwed us. Jeff pulled no punches in saying he appreciated the RYO’s right to exist, but, yes, they put us between a rock and a hard place. The reality, he said, is that we must put ourselves in the shoes of a small RYO company. They get nailed with an unreasonable tax as a result of SCHIP, jumping their tax rate from $1.10 a lb. to $24.78 a lb. all at once, and they did what they had to do to survive.

But what the government doesn’t understand, Jeff said, is that the typical RYO  customer is your blue collar Average Joe who comes in with a couple of bucks in quarters, a crumpled up dollar bill and just wants to get some tobacco. Suddenly, the government raises the taxes and it’s no longer affordable for him. It likely will not stop them from buying, but now they must scrimp and save just to afford an ounce of tobacco. So the RYO industry changes it’s marketing plan just to stay alive. When the government sees this, they figure they’ll just tax pipe tobacco at the same rate. Instead of fixing the mistake, they are just going to make a bigger mistake.

uhles promo shots 010But Jeff thinks there could be a solution more favorable to smokers. He spoke of the European government and how it defines the differences between pipe and cigarette tobacco. Moisture and cut are unique to each variety of tobacco, and, in Europe, they use these differences to define the type of tobacco. Jeff’s simple solution: roll the tax on RYO back to a reasonable rate, maybe $8-9 a lb., adopt the European definition, and allow not one but two industries to survive. This was a kneejerk reaction, according to Jeff, and the government is too apathetic or too lazy to worry about the difference between the industries. Again, he echoed his mantra of “fixing a mistake by making a bigger one.”

In light of the bill, pipe smokers are wondering, “What can we do to combat this?” Unfortunately, Jeff doesn’t have a magic solution, but from a retailer standpoint, he says part of being in business is being politically active. Local groups, shops, etc. need to band together and fight, putting aside economic competition. He believes that going to public hearings and speaking in front of the assembly are some of the best approaches. Putting a face to this is important. Jeff explains how a local coalition of retailers, The Cigar Store Alliance of Wisconsin (C-SAW) fought the Wisconsin smoking ban this year. Though they could not stop it, the managed to obtain exemptions for their stores and got the state cigar tax capped at $.50. It’s all about sticking together, there is strength in numbers.

The key, he said, is strength in numbers. If you are sitting on the sidelines thinking, “I’ll fight it when it gets worse,” you are in trouble, he said. It is at the point where we need to fight this and fight it like we have nothing to lose. When I asked Jeff about “stocking up,” he said it only goes so far. We need to be active and proactive. Hand out flyers at your local shop; try to get your local shops to work together because there may be no second chance.

Since H.R. 4439 appeared, pipe smokers have harbored anger toward the RYO community. Jeff encouraged people to keep their hard feelings but direct them at the right group. The hard feelings should be directed at the government, he said. The RYO industry is just trying to survive. If we don’t fight this now and fight it hard, Jeff feels cigars will be next. It’s not going to end with pipe smoking because it didn’t end with RYO.

jeffpromo Jeff warned that, if this passes, there could be a drastic reduction in stores specializing in pipe smoking. His biggest concern is the suppliers. How long, he asked, will the large tobacco distributors keep dealing with pipe tobacco at those tax rates? There is a good chance they will focus more on cigars and other tobaccos. Major retailers and the big drug stores will certainly drop OTC pipe tobacco like a hot potato. It just won’t be worth it anymore. When I asked Jeff if he thought this could put him out of business he was clear that he didn’t think so, but explained that this will change a lot with packaging and how they will market pipe tobacco to the customer. With a situation like this, your only hope is to be the last one standing.

If the government would just leave the pipe tobacco industry alone, Jeff said, it could remain strong and continue contributing to the economy. When he started smoking a pipe, there was often a stigma to it, but that is gone. Although not growing quickly, pipe smoking is growing. People are again finding enjoyment in pipe smoking, which had become the forgotten branch of the industry. If we fight this tax, hopefully we can watch this grow even more.

 

Uhles Pipe Tobacco Company Inc. is located at 114 W. Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53203. You can check out their web-site at www.uhles.com. If you are so inclined, you can call them toll free at 1-800-877-7024. If you would like information on the steps that Jeff and his staff are taking to fight this law, please feel free to contact them, I’m sure they would be more than willing to spend some time with you.

A day at the shop – 1/30/10

shop 003 I always enjoy my time at my B&M, for me it is my shop time. Whether it is spent on a Saturday afternoon with all the guys filtering in, or during the week with a bit of solitude and time to really get some work done on a pipe, it is always rewarding. For anyone that is interested, my B&M, Smokers Haven of the Southdown’s has a pipe sale going on. Now the website doesn’t list the available pipes, but you can call and see if they have something that maybe you have been looking for. The site was not intended to be a web store because they pride themselves on old fashioned customer service. Brian prefers to talk to someone on the phone over simply seeing their email address. They have been doing mail order for 30 years though, so if you are interested in anything or are looking for something specific, give them a call.

 

Front Top 2 Yesterday was no exception, as I finished a pipe and re-stemmed one of my old standbys that was just a bit on the short side. My Canadian Apple is a pipe that I have been working on for about 3 weeks, and just couldn’t seem to find the shop time to finish it. I hadn’t been to the shop in over 2 weeks including last Saturday, so it sat on my shelf at home, looking rather neglected. Well, it’s done now, and I’m quite content with the outcome. She is a long shanked Apple (I have seen it referred to as a Canapple, but I don’t want to steal the name) perfectly proportioned, drilled spot on and the grain turned out to be rather impressive. You can see the rest of the pictures of her at Windjammer Pipes.

Brian finished up a gorgeous Paneled English Freehand. Hard to really nail down the shape of the pipe since many of Brians’ creations are Charatan inspired, and anyone that knows Charatan is aware that they were not always producing pieces from the standard shape chart. It is a gorgeous piece though and I wish I would have gotten some pictures of it.

All in all it was a great day smoking, shooting the breeze and getting some work done. I intend on spending a couple days there this week, so I might have some more pipe updates. I have a volcano in the works that looks like it is going to be pretty.

H.R. 4439… What now?

H.R. 4439 has been the talk of the pipe smoking town for the last week. It has a lot of people up in arms, and rightfully so (to some extent). Just when we thought that nothing more could happen and the government couldn’t be anymore oppressive, this happens. Now, I’m not going to drone on and on about the politics here, quite honestly there is no point in talking about the politics. I do think however that we all need to take a step back and breathe.

Do I think that we shouldn’t be concerned… no, I think by all means we need to be aware and most importantly pro-active. That’s why before I get any farther I want to post this link, Petition Against H.R. 4439. The folks over at Pipes Magazine.com got this petition started and it’s a great way to speak out against this new tax. It’s also a great petition, it sends emails off to your individual congressman based on your zip code… kinda cool.

Anyway, the whole point of this article is to simply remind everyone not to get to caught up in the “hype” aspect of this. What I mean to say (and not to get to technical) but this is just in the early stages, and might not even make it anywhere near becoming a law. Again… be proactive, sign the petition and take steps individually, complacency is the worst thing we can do. However; this was just introduced into committee. There is a very good chance it will never make it out of committee. I’m not going to bore everyone or waste their time explaining the process, so I will simply link to it here. For those that have been out of high school for a decade or more, you might want to brush up on your Government 101 a little. The process can be found here, “How a Bill becomes a Law”.

I’m not trying to downplay the danger here, it is obvious that our hobby is being attacked. It is also most certainly up to us to make sure that it doesn’t happen, but it is also important to keep a clear head and stay in this for the long haul. The attention that our community is giving this issue is phenomenal, but what happens if it passes through committee and it becomes a SERIOUS problem for us. Will it be forgotten by then? Are we all getting caught up in the immediate hype? I think that we all need to avoid jumping into action only when an issue like this arises, but stay ever vigilant. Keep in touch with your congressman, write them, email them and let them know that this issue concerns you and that you are a taxpayer and a voter. If we all spent as much time, energy and money protecting our hobby as we do building our cellars and collections, we would be much better off.

Hysteria dies, vigilance persists.

Another great blog…

I try to keep apprised of the various blogs that are out there and recently found this one, Billiard’s Cobblings. Many might think, “Isn’t that competition?”. I say no, just another source for good information. We must all stick together right?

Take a gander over to his site and check it out. He does some amazing things with cobs and briars, well worth the look. Enjoy!

Happy Find

I think everyone goes through those moments where they just can’t figure out what to smoke. I have often found myself digging through my tobacco stash when this happens and either come across a “long lost friend” blend or something that maybe I wasn’t crazy about that I give another go.

I had this issue the other night. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I was in the mood to puff on, so I dug through my open tins and came across a “long lost friend” blend, Middlebury Mixture. This was the blend that got me into English blends. It’s light, Burley based with red VA and a touch of Latakia and Turkish.

What’s great about this blend is it’s got just a touch of sweetness and it is stout enough to make you feel like you are not smoking pure air. Anyway, just an off the cuff entry tonight.

If you are in an off mood, take a peek through your stash, you might just come across an “old friend” and be happy you took the time to look.

Waxing philosophical…

4062319992_31a2174488 This was my winning entry in a contest on a forum last month. It’s nothing special, but I thought it quite descriptive of our hobby, so I figured I would share it with you here. The goal was to describe what we thought “Brotherhood of the Briar” meant… here is my interpretation.

I believe Brotherhood of Briar is an intangible thing. Oh, surely there is that aspect of trust, and appreciation and kindness that is associated with the phrase, but I think that it runs deeper. To me it is quite simple, yet complicated in the way that others who do not experience it could not describe it or understand it. I think it goes something like this…
"Your pipe, so smooth, so familiar, you notice every detail about your venerable acquaintance, the curve of the stem, the smooth subtle round of the bowl, the gnarled look that you see in an old tree that has enjoyed life and weathered every storm with you, yet still stands strong and proud. Others may look at your pipe and see an object, but you know that it is more, there is a kinship there, unspoken but communicated with ease. This simple tool is a friend.
You do as you have done time and time again, placing that old friend ever so gently into your soft, worn, sweet smelling tobacco pouch. Carefully, you fill your bowl, not with the same fervor of lighting a cigarette but with the patience of a surgeon, noting when you have just the right spring in the pack. As you roll your pouch up and place it into your pocket, you set your friend in that familiar spot, just off center in the right of your mouth, clenching it where it has been for the last decade. Ah, the part that you both anticipate, now it is time for you and your old friend to start your conversation. You strike a match and carefully lay flame to the soft strings of tobacco peeking from the top of the bowl, puffing, thinking, relaxing… contemplative.
This is a conversation you have had many times, and you and your old friend always see eye to eye. These conversations are not always deep, but they are always meaningful and moreover enjoyed by both of you. That old friend has always been there, in that same spot for oh so many years and hopefully many more to come. With the pain and cruelty in the world the two of you share a serenity that is unmatched by anything else, a silent understanding unparalleled by the darkest night and the deepest midnight sky. This is truly friendship, one of silent contribution. Helping without a word and without the need for acknowledgment. You have taken care of your friend, and your friend has done the same for you.
Standing but a few paces away a man watches this conversation. He does so in silence and with understanding, for he has had this conversation before. Firmly held in the corner of his mouth is his friend, swirling that safety net of thick blue/gray solidarity up around his head. He smiles a wry little smile and offers you a nod, for he knows what kinship you enjoy… "The Brotherhood of the Briar”.