Although the Department of Defense is considering phasing in a ban on tobacco use in the military over as many as 20 years, The Pentagon reassured troops this week that it won’t ban tobacco products in war zones, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ press secretary Geoff Morrell. But the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association isn’t taking any chances.

"This comes down to personal choice and the pleasure of enjoying tobacco - especially good cigars and pipe tobacco – and the individual rights for which our military are fighting," said Chris McCalla, legislative director of the IPCPR. His group’s members include more than 2,000 small business owners of smoke shops and manufacturers and distributors of hand-made cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco. They represent some five percent of the tobacco industry.

"IPCPR members regularly send supplies of hand-made cigars to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to enjoy during their moments of relaxation. If anyone has earned the right to such pleasures, it’s our troops, especially those in combat," he said.

McCalla pointed out that most people have had the image of officers smoking cigars but that cigars are enjoyed by all strata of military personnel, not unlike civilians.

"Smoking throughout the ranks is not restricted to one level or another, nor should it be. Whether they are Generals or privates and airmen, Admirals or seamen, they all have equal rights to enjoy a legal product," McCalla said.

The IPCPR isn’t waiting 20 years before it begins its fight for the rights of military personnel to enjoy tobacco, he explained.

"We let the anti-tobacco forces get away with spreading a lot of misinformation about smoking and secondhand smoke over the last two decades. Much of their so-called research is highly questionable and their conclusions are particularly biased. As a result, smoking bans have spread unfairly. We’re not going to let that happen by default in the military," he said.

McCalla emphasized that individual rights are attacked every time there is a legislated smoking ban.

"Each smoking ban chips away at our individual rights which leads to loss of other rights, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, premium cigars or use other tobacco products. It’s a right of choice and we are all affected," he said.

Sacramento, CA (PRWEB) June 20, 2009 — California legislators are grasping at tax straws that don’t exist as they seek to raise billions of dollars that don’t exist for a balanced state budget that doesn’t exist, according to the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association.

Two legislators - Democrat Assemblyman Tom Torlakson of Contra Costa County and Democrat State Senator Alex Padilla of Los Angeles - have introduced AB89 and SB600, respectively. The bills propose to increase tobacco taxes to as much as $2.10 per pack of cigarettes on top of the current $.87 per pack state tax and recently increased federal taxes of $1.00 per pack plus correspondingly stiff increases on other tobacco products like cigars and pipe tobacco.

"It’s easy to call these ‘tobacco taxes’, but the truth is they are discriminatory taxes that target some 15 percent of California adults who enjoy tobacco in one form or another , whether they smoke cigarettes or savor hand-made cigars" said Chris McCalla, legislative director of IPCPR.

"Real people pay these taxes… real people at all economic levels who vote and who have had enough overspending by government. They are customers of our more than 200 members throughout the state of California who are smoke shop owners and manufacturers or distributors of premium cigars and other tobacco products. They are, for the most part, small, family-owned businesses that employ thousands of their neighbors. As taxes go up and sales go down, their businesses are as threatened as the jobs of their employees and the sales, income and other taxes collected by the local, state and federal governments," McCalla said.

Proponents of increased tobacco taxes claim they will make it more difficult for under-aged individuals to purchase cigarettes.

"Higher taxes do not make it more difficult for teen-agers to purchase tobacco … they only make it more expensive for them and everyone else. If we want to keep kids from smoking - and we agree that everyone should support that goal - we should be enforcing the laws that are already on the books as do all members of the IPCPR," said McCalla.

McCalla disagreed with an editorial in a California newspaper (Wednesday, June 17, Los Angeles Times) that said increasing state tobacco taxes would be a "fair and constructive" way to find "balance" for the budget.

"The bills’ sponsors are estimating that these new, taxes on 15 percent of Californians might generate up to $2 billion as the state seeks to fill its $24 billion deficit. That is anything but fair, constructive or balanced," McCalla said.