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    Smoker Friendly Cheers on 10th Annual Tobacco Conference

    Industry and legislative panels keep retailers informed on the volatile market.

    BOULDER, Colo. -- Playing off a cheerleader/football theme, Smoker Friendly International (SFI)cheered on its 10th annual Tobacco Festival & Conference, held this Monday and Tuesday at the Millennium Harvest House here. The company also celebrated its 18th year as a brand, which is now recognized as the country's largest cigarette and tobacco outlet retailer but also encompasses its authorized dealership program (utilized even by some c-stores) and its private label tobacco products.

    Once again, the SFI event featured several industry and legislative panels. This year's panelists included Gary Poehlmann, vice president of sales for Swedish Match North America; Bobby Newman, executive vice president for J.C. Newman Cigar Co.; John Miller, an industry consultant with electronic cigarette manufacturer Freedom Smokeless; and Steve Sandman, vice president of sales and marketing for Republic Tobacco.

    One of the issues discussed was that because channels like drug and grocery are "close to throwing the whole [tobacco] category out," according to Newman, it's really coming down to two channels for tobacco -- c-stores and tobacco outlets.

    C-stores were praised for embracing the smokeless category. "Actually, with the entire OTP (other tobacco products) category, they're doing a fairly good job of making space," noted Poehlmann. "Smokeless continues to grow for the channel."

    Regarding best retail practices, panelists encouraged generating more excitement and fun around these adult categories as much as possible, as well as keeping sections neat and organized, and most importantly, educating store staff with product knowledge so they can focus on more consultative selling with customers, especially with emerging categories like snus and electronic cigarettes.

    "Intelligence and communication is vital to survival," stated Sandman.

    Electronic cigarette growth was defined by Miller as "growing exponentially." He cited industry data that reported 35 to 45 percent of c-stores will be carrying the products by year's end.

    Smoker Friendly's legislative panel was moderated by Ron Tully, vice president of new projects, National Tobacco, and included Jim Dillard, senior vice president of regulatory affairs of Altria Client Services, Tom Briant, executive director of NATO (National Association of Tobacco Outlets), and Glynn Loope, director of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).

    Loope spoke about state and local legislation that recently took place in the industry -- primarily smoking ban rollbacks -- that should be viewed as something positive in these volatile tobacco times. Briant reviewed concerns of retailer compliance checks and training programs.

    Also at the show, Jon Caldera, president of Libertarian thinktank The Independence Institute, and news radio host, was a guest speaker. He encouraged smokers and retailers of tobacco products to position themselves as a political movement, minorities and victims.

    "If smokers do not get organized and sell themselves as victims, tobacco will become a completely controlled substance," he said. "You have to remember you're selling a wee bit of liberty. Instead of buying into the fact that you're 'merchants of death,' you must position it as 'merchants of liberty.'"

    Smoker Friendly also honored Swedish Match North America (SMNA) as its manufacturer "visionary of the year" during the event. The retailer of the year award went to Klafter's Inc., a tobacco outlet retailer in Pennsylvania that has been partners with SFI since the 1990s, run by the Silverman family.

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