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ESOP Summer School 14: EO, Premium Cigars, and Advocacy

Welcome to our third annual EO/ESOP Podcast Summer School series. We've selected some of our favorite episodes over the past year to bring you all summer long. We're going to spend the summer catching our breath and recharging our batteries. We're also going to be wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

In this episode Bret Keisling sat down with Greg Zimmerman, Vice President of the Premium Cigar Association (PCA), President of the Pennsylvania Premium Cigar Retailers Association (PAPCRA) and co-owner of The Tobacco Company cigar stores in Central Pennsylvania to discuss the regulatory, legislative, and judicial challenges to the premium cigar industry, and how EO faces the same challenges.

During the pandemic associations have suspended their in-person conferences but advocacy work is needed more than ever.

You can hear the original January 7, 2020 release of this episode in Episode 95: Greg Zimmerman - EO, Premium Cigars, and Advocacy.


Summer School 14 Transcript

Bret Keisling: Welcome to our third annual EO/ESOP Podcast Summer School. We've selected some of our favorite episodes over the past year to bring you all summer long. We're going to spend the summer catching our breath and recharging our batteries. We're also going to be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. I hope you will too. Join us for new content each Friday throughout the summer on the ESOP Mini-cast. You can support our work by subscribing or following us wherever you get your podcasts. Enjoy the episode.

Bitsy McCann: Welcome to The EO Podcast, where we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: Hello my friends. Thanks for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. I'm really glad you could join me today. I've got a great guest who's going to provide a lot of interesting information about advocacy, but he's also integral to my story in ESOP land with the formation of Cap Trustees and our first ESOP transaction. So let me introduce my guest today, Greg Zimmerman. Greg, how are you?

Greg Zimmerman: Good. How are you doing today, Bret?

Bret Keisling: 00:40 Excellent. Let's explain your credentials with advocacy. There are a couple of organizations that you're officers with. Why don't you tell us -- the Premium Cigar Association? Why don't you tell us a little bit about that organization?

Premium Cigar Association logo

Greg Zimmerman: 00:51 Premium Cigar Association was formed to advocate for the 2,500, approximately, maybe up to 3,000 brick and mortar mom and pop cigar stores across the United States; to advocate for the interests of the brick and mortar stores with what's most important to the to the retailer. We monitor things like taxation, smoking bans, age restrictions, anything to do with tobacco related sales. So it kind of covers a lot of things. Educational programs to kind of teach or help our membership in furthering their businesses. We have all types of seminars, podcasts, we have webinars to teach them merchandising. But the main crux of the organization is to be the primary voice or advocate for the premium cigar retailer.

Bret Keisling: You mentioned the mom and pop shops, so that generally would exclude the online retailers. And just to differentiate for our non cigar aficionado listeners, for example, if one went into a convenience store and bought a little dollar cherry cigar, that's not what we're talking about here.

Greg Zimmerman: That's correct. Yeah. By definition, our product is different in the way it's constructed, the way it's consumed, the way it's exposed to tobacco consumers. So the whole process or the whole experience is completely different than the type of product that you're going to see in a convenience store or gas station.

Bret Keisling: Separately. It'll come up a little bit. There are pipe retailers associations that you might have some interactions with and some of the other tobacco products that are part of your world. And for those who are listening to the podcast, I equate it to if you're an ESOP world, you're focused on ESOPs, but there are co-ops, collectives, there are all sorts of other members of the employee ownership family. So similarly you're focused the premium cigars. And with that you're the vice president of the Premium Cigar Association. You're also the chairman of the state legislative committee for the PCA and you serve on the legal committee overlooking all of the various litigations and the connection. Greg, again, for our listeners, because this will end up being more connected than it might appear, is you focus with your field being premium cigars on the effects of the executive branch through regulations and administrative actions. In the ESOP world, we have the Department of Labor and IRS. Yours might be the FDA health departments, et cetera. You are focused on statewide activities because, and you'll share more about this if you have a robust national environment, which you guys don't necessarily have yet, but there are tracks along the state level. You need to coordinate the state. So you watch the state advocacy and you oversee all the litigation. And certainly in ESOP world we live and die as a former trustee by the litigation and that sort of thing. So you're facing the same executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch that employee ownership does. And you oversee that all correct?

Greg Zimmerman: We have a board of fifteen, five of us formulate the executive committee. Each one of us have a particular role. We have a person that is the chairman of the federal legislative committee. I chair the state legislative committee. As you, you mentioned earlier, we also have a trade show component that is probably our main, it is our kind of our mantlepiece so to speak throughout the year where the whole industry comes together to share thoughts, networking, see new products, purchase new products, potentially make new connections with the new companies that are trying to come into the into the industry on the manufacturing side. Lots of teaching opportunities, lots of seminars and speakers. So we have a person who actually chairs that committee. We have a finance chair that actually oversees -- that would be our treasurer. So I'm one of the five guys that do monitor the things you mentioned.

Bret Keisling: And the funny thing, first of all, your national conference at least has been, I don't know if it's all the time, but it's been in Las Vegas

Greg Zimmerman: Primarily in Las Vegas. It's a -- in the U S there's very few places, very few venues that will allow smoking. That's one of the kind of our prerequisites. So we're pretty much relegated to a spot or two in Florida, Las Vegas, New Orleans.

Bret Keisling: Well and for none of those reasons, but one of our associations has a national conference as you know, I've been in Vegas every year for 12 years or so. And we certainly get to New Orleans as well, but it's just the connection. And one of the things that you said, Greg, and then I do want to take a step back and talk about you as a small business owner for just a moment. But one of the things that you said that also resonated with me and employee ownership, when you talked about how to bring new businesses in, I imagine you're very closely focused on the amount of mom and pop retailers, the brick and mortar retailers, and the fact is if they go out of business, are you guys interested in consolidating or do you want to make sure there are retailers coming up behind them that if some go out that more are entering the field?

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah, we would welcome, or we try and nurture the ability for new businesses to come into the marketplace. And yeah, we certainly don't want to see consolidation because that can pose different problems for the consumer.

Bret Keisling: And the, I imagine the bigger mom and pops could get, the easier it would be for them to make more of an online presence for you, You know, in other words that you could start blending or causing a little bit of confusion among the roles. But the relevance to the employee ownership is, you know, we had 6,500 ESOPs in 1996 and we have about 6,500 today. And so a lot of folks, myself included, are focused on the fact that we have this really great capital structure and employee ownership answers a lot of the issues, but we're stagnant. So it is very similar to the ESOP movement from what you guys are doing.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Bret Keisling: Let me take a step back now and get a little bit personal. And again for folks just indulge me, 'cause they've -- our listeners who are regular -- have heard parts of these stories but not really the connection. You and your partner Dave Spackman own two shops called The Tobacco Company. One, which I'll call the flagship store, which is probably incorrect, is in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, it's just been there longer, and then a great location in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And you and Greg have been partners 20 years now just about? Or you and Dave?

Greg Zimmerman: Dave and I have been partners since April of 1998. So 21 years, soon to be 22.

Bret Keisling: 07:58 So soon to be 22. So for those who have listened quite a bit, Rich Heeter and I, who my partner for seven years at Capital Trustees, we were known for a number of years as "the cigar trustees" because we would go to the ESOP conferences and we would actually bring cigars with us that were banded with our logo that you and Dave - and I'll give credit to Dave - that Dave put these together. So I loved that conferences at night, we would be outside of the hotel with employee owners, other professional advisors, and my favorites were always our competitors who would come have a cigar with Rich and I, and it was your cigars. But that's for me, it goes back even further. In 2005, I started becoming, I actually started smoking cigars for the first time, and I was in my final year of law school. And for those who have seen my pictures, I was 42. I haven't aged badly, you know, I was old at the time, but there was a regular customer and frankly I'll say beloved for all of us, guy named Phil Costabile who passed in 2009 but Phil got to know me as I was studying for the bar. He and his two brothers owned a business, a laundry equipment business. And at one point Phil said, if you pass the bar, I'll hire you. And as you remember him, he's that kinda guy. And they hired me as their attorney for a few years. And then in about 2008 I was meeting a guy that we were just going to network together. He was a financial planner and I was a new lawyer and it was just was there any business synergy. And I was having lunch with this guy and Phil Constable's name came up and he had done a little bit of advising for Phil and this guy who was Rich Heeter said, I always thought ESOPs would be good for Phil and his brothers but they didn't like the idea and I said to Rich as their new lawyer, I think I can probably get them to reconsider the idea and let's see where it goes. And then I said to Rich, and this is very true, what's an ESOP? And I include that in the story, Greg because none of us grew up saying we want to go into employee ownership or we wanted to go into ESOPs. And we all have that moment of, well this sounds really good. What the heck is it?

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah.

Bret Keisling: But so Cap Trustees -- and I just wanted to thank you and Dave Spackman on this podcast -- because the reality is the story between Rich and I is really pretty well known at this point in ESOP world. But very few people realize it actually started because Rich and I were both customers at your store. So I ended up being a CEO of an employee owned company, Phil Costabile's a company for two and a half years and then left there and Rich and I formed Capital Trustees. So for better or worse, there would not be an ESOP Podcast, but for you and Dave Spackman. So either thank you or you should apologize!

Greg Zimmerman: [Laughter.] I'm not sure which way to go there. But yeah, I think that that is a kind of a unique dynamic with the store in general. I think that there's been a lot of people that have met through the store and different vocations and business relationships have been, have evolved and it's kind of a neat process to see that. And one of the things I'm kind of proud of is in my business is to actually watch some of that stuff flourish and see it being nurtured. And there's been some very good relationships, very good businesses, that came out of just hanging out at the cigar shop.

Bret Keisling: And the relationships. And for younger business people entering the field.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah.

Bret Keisling: They know that if they just kind of listen to some philosophy around them, there's a lot to learn and it's all kinds of people. For the listeners, thank you for indulging me, but explaining that I'm talking to a guy that I think can bring some ideas that we can appropriate and use an employee ownership. But I'm also talking to a friend who's really been in the background of where I am today in my life. So thank you very much.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah. And I'll do my best. I remember when you and Rich a first started talking about the formation of Capital Trustees and like you, I didn't understand, didn't know really what ESOPs were. In fact, I think you may have mentioned to me first time and I was like, do you mean Aesop's Fables? So I wasn't really sure, but just through being around listening to you guys, I've gotten a little bit better idea of what it is and...

Bret Keisling: I just need to correct the timeline just one little bit Greg. It was, you remember when, and you were around for it, when PAC Industries was going through the transaction that led to me being CEO.

Greg Zimmerman: Right.

Bret Keisling: I just wanted to point out by the time Rich and I were forming Capital Trustees two and a half years later we knew what ESOPs were! [Laughter.].

Greg Zimmerman: Oh, yeah, yeah. [Laughter.].

Bret Keisling: For the people who are like, oh three years in Bret was like, I better figure out what this is about. [Laughter.] But no, you're exactly right. And frankly there have been a lot of, for small business owners in those cigar shop conversations with people knowing what Rich and I have done, there's been a lot of conversations about employee ownership as just something unique. You know, everybody understands business, a lot of the cigar customers, employee ownership was new.

Greg Zimmerman: Sure.

Bret Keisling: So that's kind of interesting in terms of doing that. So Greg, let's go back to the advocacy and I think your role with the Premium Cigar Association evolved in my knowing you and then explain it, but you saw a need -- concerns -- with again, executive branch regulations with legislative concerns, I know as a small business retailer, and I think I mentioned you're also president of the Pennsylvania [Premium] Cigar Retailers Association.

Greg Zimmerman: Correct.

Bret Keisling: So a lot of the advocacy, am I right that you got into it out of a sense of necessity because you were a business owner that was worried about negative impact?

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah, I mean it was purely self-preservation. It all started here in Pennsylvania, what was probably my first step into it. Being here in Harrisburg, being close to the capital, obviously I got to meet some of the legislators and key regulators that could or would or did effect my business. So I thought, you know, maybe I better go get my lobbying registration and I need to, you know, and it was really out of like I said earlier, more self-preservation than it was as a way to protect the industry as a whole. Now it has evolved to that. In that role in Pennsylvania, some of the people on the national organization that used to -- our association was called by a different name at that time -- heard what I was doing in Pennsylvania and then invited me to come to the board at that time was the RTDA, which was the Retail Tobacco Dealers Association. We've since changed the name because of the word "dealers," which kind of had a little bit of a negative connotation. So the association is 85 years old. And for that first, probably approximately 78 years was called the RTDA. But we've now since changed that. So they asked me to serve on the board of directors for the RTDA at the time, now PCA. And after my three year stint, they asked me if I would consider being a part of the executive committee, which oversees state advocacy, as I mentioned, the federal advocacy, litigation, trade show, and finance of the association.

Bret Keisling: Well, I'm not surprised you were put on the executive committee, Greg, and I don't know if you've just had a natural affinity to it, because I know that there have been various times, but in a cigar shop there would be a major legal case that would come out and people at the cigar shop would sit around and talk about it, lawyers, non-lawyers, that kind of thing. But you, if it was a case that interested you, unlike a lot of people just sitting around chatting in cigar shops or restaurants or wherever you would actually read the case, you would actually come and you would come and I don't practice law anymore, but you would come and say, Hey Bret, this is kind of what I've gotten from the case and as a lay person, without the training, you showed great aptitude. Did that lead to some of the desire to have you on the executive committee? That you just...

Greg Zimmerman: Well I think more of the litigation part. I would say that I was more brought in because of my advocacy efforts more so than the litigation part. The litigation kind of came as I was a board member as I was an executive board member. But you're correct, I would sit, I can remember the formation of the legal committee and there was a group of, I don't know, seventeen stakeholders, key stakeholders in the premium cigar industry; manufacturers, retailers, and we talked about forming this law, or this legal committee to kind of oversee our next steps because we realized that through the regulatory process that we were now going to be regulated and that there had to be some legal steps taken to either shape that that would most benefit the premium cigar industry as a whole or overturn it completely. So I stood up and asked a few questions and I remember one of the guys asking, are you an attorney? And I said, no, I'm not an attorney. And they said, well it seemed like you know what you're talking about so you're on the legal team.

Bret Keisling: You got into advocacy, and that's kind of interesting because I just, you know, we all have people in the frame of mind, but it's the advocacy that brought you to their attention.

Greg Zimmerman: Right.

Bret Keisling: And I'm assuming you were doing the advocacy in Pennsylvania and that included some elected officials do enjoy cigars and I would happen to see one or two of them walk in and you or your partner would engage them in conversation, normally very cordially. But the, these are actual voters sitting here in this room that you are potentially hurting. The one thing that in terms of the advocacy, and we do understand, both of us, that the tobacco products have a certain controversial aspect in the United States and around the world and we understand that. But where you said, and you're focus on the litigation, and this ties into what ESOP communities have been saying with the DOL, you haven't taken the position that cigars should be unregulated. You just don't want them to be unfairly regulated, first of all, in terms of it's fine to have a discussion about health benefits, but if all of the cigar label simply we're a health warning, that doesn't seem fair to you. And the other thing is it shouldn't just be taxed out of existence because it's perceived as a luxury item that that doesn't mean that everybody should just pay through the nose to the point where more stores close and the industry folds. That is a far cry from saying there shouldn't be any regulation at all. Right. You just want it to be fair and appropriate.

Greg Zimmerman: Correct. Yeah, and I, and I don't know if at this point you want me to go into some of the background of where this regulation, or where regulation kind of started as it pertains to our industry in particular...

Bret Keisling: Greg, why don't we do this if you don't mind? One of the challenges that we have in ESOP world is the DOL will promulgate or propose regulations and there's commenting period and that sort of thing. And I know just for example, there's been consideration by some federal agencies about whether valuation advisers should have a fiduciary role, you know, should be considered fiduciaries and we mobilize to get what we perceive is the same as result. Do you have any examples of regs. or anything like that where you guys have stuff similar to -- whether valuators should be fiduciaries -- but on the regs. or any of the administrative stuff that said that made you and your team say, wait, we need to address this.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah. It started with the Tobacco Control Act that was signed into law in 2009 which gave the FDA authority to regulate all tobacco products including cigars. That was signed into law, again, February of 2009. The, a lot of the rules that are promulgated through that ruling were specifically designed to curtail the access by youth to cigarettes and chewing tobacco and other tobacco products that you would find in convenience stores and stuff like that. The FDA then took it upon itself to expand its scope and include premium cigars into it. We kind of got caught up in this when the electronic cigarette, the vaping issue that has been in the news so much lately causing health issues, respiratory distress issues, especially amongst youth, the youth, the average age of youth initiation and those products are about 16 years old. So the, it's easy for the FDA or a regulatory agency to see a problem and then just kind of throw everyone under the same umbrella. So they're out of that rule. There were some rules that we felt that were very onerous to the premium cigar industry and jeopardized and threatened the very existence of it. So that's some of the stuff that we're looking to either fix legislatively, which we've been trying over the past three congresses and we've had some success. However, the FDA is still pushing forward with the regulatory scheme. So now we have entered into a litigation with the FDA. We're actually suing to have some of those more onerous points of that rule overturned. And we're using the administrative branch at this time to kind of apply pressure to the agency.

Bret Keisling: Let me ask this Greg, because it does apply to employee ownership. I'm not aware, certainly in ESOPs, neither of the big organizations to my knowledge or any of the state centers have a litigation component that it, to my knowledge, and I like to stress, I don't know everything going on in ESOP world, but I've been studying it for 12 years and if it's going on and I'm not aware of it, who are they telling? You know what I mean? Like I don't know. Who knows? So it seems to me that there's great value that your organization went the route of trying to influence appropriately the agencies or the executive branch or the legislative branch, but it became very necessary. Like challenging through litigation is a very important part of what you've done. Right? That's just something I haven't heard in employee ownership where an organization litigates for a result.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah. Well we, when the deeming rule, which was the tobacco control act came out, there were guidance timelines throughout this where different parts of the regulations would fall to the industry. So the FDA had a responsibility to come out with what they called guidance reports that would tell us as an industry how we needed to comply. The FDA failed to do that. So without guidance we don't know how to comply, but yet the deadline is still the deadline. If you don't have it done by that date, then you're out of compliance and could be shut down or levied some type of fine or penalty for not complying. Well, if you don't tell me what I need to do, how can I do it? So that's where the litigation part came in because the FDA is not moving, not telling us, not putting out guidance reports on what we need to do. Now we're going to go through the judiciary to force them to release these documents, these guidance reports before the deadline so that we know we can do. And if the regulation is that onerous also in that process too, we're going to, we're going to try and litigate it and have it overturned through the, through the judicial system.

Bret Keisling: And I just want to reemphasize to a fault that one of the issues you have is not just with the specific cigar related rules but it's that it was in an act or a regulatory filing that was devoted to young people and primarily cigarette or those related products and then they shoehorn the cigar stuff in. So it's not even look like there was a robust process at the FDA or whatever saying let's really look at the cigar industry and let's see what makes sense in the vacuum or I'm sorry, in the context of addressing tobacco with children and Greg, I know you as a business owner, you and your partner, you guys are not on the cusp of selling to young people. You don't really like teenagers coming in and that kind of thing. That's not, ou know, you're not trying to make money. But again it's the lumping the adults, you know, the non-minors who are making decisions with cigars. There are so many different connections. Again through employee ownership because our challenge has been, you know, again as trustees these decisions would come out legal decisions or settlement agreements from the department of labor and we're generally bound by them or understand that we're bound by them but haven't really had any role in, unless you're the subject of that specific case or settlement agreement to have any role in flushing this out. So you guys have taken an approach that we haven't had in employee ownership of, hey, this affects all of us, let's all work together.

Greg Zimmerman: Right.

Bret Keisling: And that's the point of doing it.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Bret Keisling: So how do you interact, I know that you do, as president of the Pennsylvania [Premium] Cigar Retailers association, that you do a lot of advocacy in Pennsylvania. Can you share a little bit as the chairman of the state legislative committee, because it's another thing, in employee ownership, Greg, we have some states that do a really good job. But a mutual friend of ours, Pennsylvania State Representative Greg Rothman, who has been on a previous podcast [Episode 88] a couple of months ago, asked me recently if I could give him some ideas for pro- employee ownership legislation that Pennsylvania could do. We don't even have a resource to go. We're saying this is going on in this state, this is going on in that state, et cetera, et cetera. Is part of your goal of looking over all of the states to add a coordination to state efforts or what's the goal there?

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah, the we actually, we have a firm that provides us with a software that actually monitors all 50 States. So if there's any legislative efforts in a state even down to the municipality of any state, we'll be notified that there's potentially something that we need to take a look at.

Bret Keisling: It's like keyword "tobacco" or something like that.

Greg Zimmerman: Exactly, exactly. It may be smoking bans. It may be age increases. It may be tax increases on our products. So we get almost instant notification. And what we do is we've seen it happen over the years that a lot of these things formulate at the state level, local level, municipal level, and kind of raise up to the state. And then finally you're going to see it at the federal level, and I'll give you an example right now, there's legislation in the US Senate to raise the smoking age to 21 years old [Update: since this podcast was recorded, Tobacco21 legislation has gone into effect nationally]. That legislation started years ago, or that thought started years ago, in Massachusetts and California where local municipalities took it upon themselves to raise the age limit. So we've recognized that a lot of this stuff starts at the state level and it kind of spreads out through the states and then it comes up through the federal. So if you can kind of get it at grass tops, so to speak, and mobilize the industry within the state to kind of quell, push back some of those regulations then, or to at least slow it down, then you might not see it at the federal level as quickly.

Bret Keisling: So it is again, that coordination of all aspects, the states and the feds working together and you're in a unique role to be over, to be able to oversee a lot of that through the different committee roles or, or your vice presidency. Yeah, exactly. We have staff that, we have a person that is our senior state legislative director and she reports to me, so she'll notify me. She monitors that software that I mentioned earlier and she'll notify me, hey Greg, here's an issue that we really need to take a look at. It could effect the state as a whole. We have a, I can't mention though, a couple of things going on in certain states right now and she'll ask me how to move forward. Then we'll go to the full board, we'll discuss it and we'll come up and formulate a strategy and then we'll execute that strategy. We also have state associations that we help subsidize either through educational programs, financially to help them hire lobbyists to maybe tackle certain things that they're experiencing in their state.

Bret Keisling: So it's just a multipronged approach to try and cover all your bases. And I imagine to help guide the conversation and not just be on the receiving end of, you know, federal or statewide efforts.

Greg Zimmerman: Because we can, a lot of times we, if we catch something early enough and we can explain -- because people that, I mean there's only a small percentage of the population that use tobacco as a whole. I mean, you're talking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, e-cigarettes, cigars, premium cigars -- they're different. You're only talking about 23%. But we can find that it's easy when for a state or a legislature in a state to just throw a blanket regulatory scheme over tobacco as a whole, but they don't realize the nuance. So if you look at, for example the different types of tobacco products, there's a well published, well-studied study out there. It's called the PATH Study, which is funded by NIH, the National Institute of Health, and HHS, which is Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA. And so it's basically its own FDA study. And some of the things that we, that their study, which supports like our argument and the premium cigar industry is that the average age of initiation of our product is 30 years old. So we don't have a youth access problem. 52% of premium cigar smokers are college educated compared to 32% of the general population. There's is no increase, percentage of increase in smoking related diseases amongst premium cigar smokers compared to the general population, the mortality rate of a premium cigar smokers two years longer than nonsmoker. And so we're not saying that premium cigars are good for you, but there is not a health issue. There's not a youth access issue, which were the main reasons for the Tobacco Control Act. So you can't throw a blanket regulatory scheme over everything under a reason, well, legitimate reason. I mean we need to be concerned about people's health and youth access to tobacco products, nobody wants to see that. But you can't in essence wipe out an industry, a small segment of the industry when there is no threat there.

Bret Keisling: And I think you said this, but just to drive the point home, when the NIH, the government's own health data showed that the regulatory scheme was unjustified. So it again was addressing a problem. And here it's probably the opposite of employee ownership again, where, you know, employee ownership is warm and fuzzy and people can get around it, although we don't have enough people supporting it to where there are folks who probably wouldn't mind if premium cigars were out of business any way they did it. And that's what you're trying to fight against.

Greg Zimmerman: Exactly.

Bret Keisling: You know of if we've got to follow the rules that you're willing to agree, you know, there are some, maybe you don't care for, but at least if they're done the right way, that's one thing. But if the agenda is just, you shouldn't earn a livelihood and your customers shouldn't, you know, have access that's a whole different matter.

Greg Zimmerman: Yeah. Unfortunately, I mean there, there are zealots that believe just because they believe in one particular thing, they think it has to be, you know, across the board in, especially in tobacco, the director of the Center for Tobacco Products, Dr. Mitch Zeller said that his only goal in the United States is the eradication of tobacco. It should not even be grown in the United States. So you have people that, it doesn't matter that you have data that shows -- he's already formed an opinion. I mean there, there is bad things that happen when you use combustible tobacco products. You know, i.e. cigarettes there's no arguing that, but when there is a clear distinction and difference, it shouldn't, it shouldn't be a blanket rule that kind of, you know, would decimate an industry as a whole.

Bret Keisling: Greg, I want to thank you for all of your time. Every time we've talked over the last year, I'm like either employee ownership is doing that or should be doing that and I just kind of wanted to have you come on, share with what you're doing. Thank you for a couple of decades of friendship and just owning a, no matter where I live, what will be my home cigar shop for the rest of my life. So thank you very much for your time.

Greg Zimmerman: Thank you.

Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling, and I'm Bitsy McCann.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field. And the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement. But if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The ESOP Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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