Tobacco Retailers Form Statewide Alliance

TULSA, Okla. - Smokeshop owner/operators in the state of Oklahoma have formed a coalition that will spearhead a statewide campaign to end the continuing taxation of tobacco products.

"The Tobacco Retailers Alliance will now embark on a good citizenship program of activities to support worthy state programs on behalf of several hundred members who run smoke shops for tobacco products in Oklahoma and bordering states," said Joe Lane, a Chelsea, Okla. rancher and independent smokeshops owner, who has been voted president of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance.

Steve Bruner, also a smokeshops owner, and president of Bruner Investments in Broken Arrow, Okla., was elected chairman of public affairs for the new group. Bruner said there are much better ways than taxation to inform the public of the need to discourage smoking and other potentially harmful tobacco uses. His position is that the majority of Oklahoma residents should freely reject the use of tobacco and any new taxes, without the state's having to pass a law that raises taxes.

Lane and Bruner said that they will launch "a modest and truthful, unemotional campaign" to gather support to defeat on Nov. 2 State Question 713, which would raise tobacco taxes as much as $8 on a carton of cigarettes and higher on other tobacco products.

They also said that that the alliance had hired veteran public relations executive and leader Dean Sims, founder and chairman of Tulsa-based Public Relations International, for counsel on association management and marketing communications.

The Alliance leaders stressed that Indian tribes have the choice of backing the association's activities but will not be involved as such in its management.

"Admittedly," said Lane in a statement, "most of us are members of one tribe or another, but we do not officially represent any tribe in this public education group dedicated to the economic health of independently owned businesses such as convenience stores, grocery stores, and other retailers."

Bruner told Progressive Grocer that "for political reasons" most alliance members wish to remain anonymous, as they're afraid they'll "get their hand slapped," presumably in the form of yet more taxes. He said that until Nov. 2 the organization's chief goal would be to defeat Question 713, but that after the election the Tobacco Retailers Alliance would remain on the scene as a "watchdog" to work against any similar state laws proposed in the future.
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