Photo Credit: Public Domain

It was the most anticipated Keynote Address at an IPCPR Trade Show and Convention since Mike Ditka in 2013. Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, delivered the Keynote Address at the 2017 IPCPR Trade Show and Convention. In a speech that lasted nearly an hour, Giuliani’s focus slanted toward justifying the political agenda of the current White House Administration and provided very little in the way of understanding the challenges facing the premium cigar industry.


Events Prior to IPCPR

Back on November 8th, 2016,  Giuliani made an appearance on Fox News during the early part of the U.S. Presidential election night coverage. During his appearance, Giuliani was assessing some the of the results regarding the State of Florida. He stated that Republican candidate Donald Trump was going to win Florida and there were certain neighborhoods indicative of this. One neighborhood was Little Havana and it was the comments around Little Havana that set the cigar industry into a frenzy.

“I know the Cuban Community in Little Havana and I happen to spend a lot of time there; for a total irrelevant reason – the fact that I love cigars. I know all those families very well, the Padron family, Don Pepin Garcia. They’re big Trump supporters.”

Everyone (including this author) in the cigar industry got very excited about these statements being made on national television – after all, it isn’t every day the cigar industry gets national press from mainstream media. Once Trump secured the presidency, this excitement took on a whole new life. With Trump and Giuliani supposedly being close; and Giuliani being considered for the Cabinet, came the assumption that Giuliani was going to help the cigar industry. This assumption was based on the premise that he was going to point out to Donald Trump the draconian regulations imposed on the cigar industry by the FDA.

Specific references to Giuliani allegedly being the cigar industry’s “best chance” for getting Trump to reconsider the regulations came from cigar industry media and industry personnel directly. That is something that I have been very skeptical about from the beginning.

Whether his comments about Little Havana and/or hopes that Giuliani would save the cigar industry led to Giuliani coming to IPCPR, I don’t know. However, there was some momentum and I do feel it made sense to have him as a keynote speaker.

Photo Credit: Cigar Coop

The Positives 

The Anti-Regulation Agenda was Emphasized

The speech started out promising. He started out talking about President Donald Trump’s goal of reducing regulations. That is a good thing, as the premium cigar industry has been targeting this as a path to getting the FDA regulations overturned. Given Trump’s goal of reducing regulations, Giuliani mentioned it was a good time to bring the case to the Trump Administration. He preached patience as it takes some time for the new players in the Trump Administration to ease into their roles – and often there are still other people from the previous Administration (in this case President Obama’s Administration) in the role. He also specifically referenced the FDA.

“He (Trump) doesn’t give a damn if you smoke or drink”

This was something said by Giuliani that was very positive – and might have been the most unnoticed part of the speech.

Many have questioned the fact that President Trump is not known to smoke or drink and as a result many question where Trump’s stance is on smoking and drinking when it comes to others. During the speech, Giuliani acknowledged Trump’s libertarian mindset when it came to smoking. Giuliani even said he smoked a cigar in Trump’s presence. I found this to be a very important and powerful part of the speech as it was the first time I had heard anyone say this.

The Negatives

Partisan Politics

Much of Giuliani’s speech sounded like a campaign speech. The Republican former Mayor took shots at former President Jimmy Carter, current New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, and former New York Mayor David Dinkins – both of whom were Democrats. This wasn’t because of their positions on regulating premium cigars. The partisan nature of Giuliani’s speech was most disappointing because bi-partisan politics have been emphasized in the cigar industry’s battle against the FDA – meaning it doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican as long as you support premium cigars.

Too Much Off-Topic on Cigars

There simply was not enough coverage on cigars. The speech expounded on how well the economy is doing since Trump getting elected. It moved on to cover things such as reducing corporate taxes, Obamacare, Energy Independence, fracking, fighting terrorism, and the problem of North Korea. We were also reminded about how Giuliani reduced crime in New York City. These topics represented the lion’s share of the content of his keynote address.

Missing the Mark on Smoking Bans

Giuliani attempted to describe the way the cigar industry was adaptable, but missed the mark on this point as well. He talked about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban in New York City and how it helped the Grand Havana Room gain membership in New York City.  On the other hand, Giuliani failed to mention that he personally signed a comprehensive smoking ban into law in 1995. I believe these actions in New York City were not very helpful to the cigar retailers as a whole.

Giuliani then mentioned how he wasn’t allowed to smoke in a cigar store in Colorado – the store owner told him the state doesn’t allow it. That is incorrect, smoking is allowed in Colorado cigar stores established by December 31, 2005.  This showed a lack of fact checking in this speech. If this were the State of Washington or Delaware, I believe these would have been better examples.

Things We Should Have Heard About

Industry Battle as a Whole

There was no mention of the pending legislation geared to getting exemptions for premium cigars, nor the proposed change in the predicate date. In fact, the issue of the predicate date was not even brought up during the speech. The lawsuit was not mentioned either, but that was not surprising, as I didn’t expect Giuliani to comment on a case against the Federal Government.

Where Cigars Stand on the Anti-Regulatory Agenda

As mentioned, I thought it was great how Giuliani emphasized the Trump agenda of reducing regulations.

The big question many of us in the industry have is where premium cigars stand in the pecking order of repealing regulations versus other regulations. If you listened to Giuliani’s speech, you know that question wasn’t answered. The point of reducing regulations was emphasized, but there was no mention on where he felt premium cigars fell in the pecking order.

Taking Questions from the Audience

Huge miss. Toward the end of the speech, Giuliani asked the audience if they would like to ask a question or hear a story. Before the audience really had a chance to answer, he went right into a story.

I’m not sure there was not enough time to take questions, so perhaps Giuliani was not aware of the time. If that were the case, he still should have noted that.

The worst part, the end story wasn’t tied to cigars or the anti-regulatory agenda. This was quite disappointing as well.

Passion and Sympathy from Giuliani

While I have been critical of Giuliani because I feel he has given what I term “lukewarm” support to the cigar industry, I was nonetheless looking forward to him speaking. Giuliani has a reputation of being a powerful and motivational speaker.

I never expected Giuliani to commit in his speech that he would take up the charge and fight for the cigar industry. As expected, that did not happen. However, I expected a passionate speech from a cigar point of view. I also expected something along the lines of, “I’m with you and we will get this overturned.” Instead, the speech was somewhat flat by Giuliani standards and one that really never had the tone “we’re in this together”.

More Support for the Retailers

Following the speech, Giuliani walked the show floor and stopped by many of the booths for a smoke with manufacturers and brand owners. Many of these were smaller brand owners – and this was a good thing.

However, IPCPR is an organization that represents the retailers. While Giuliani has been great about visiting many retail shops across the country, I still would have liked to see more interaction with the retailers at the Trade Show. To what extent this happened was not quite clear. Even a scheduled one-hour photo opportunity with the former Mayor would have gone a long way.

Final Thoughts

I walked away from the speech convinced Giuliani didn’t speak enough about cigars as well as questioning how well Giuliani actually understands the challenges the cigar industry faces. When I compare it to some of Senator Marco Rubio’s speeches, Giuliani looked quite weak on the issue and sounded very flat.

The IPCPR and Cigar Industry did their job and did it well. They brought in a name like Rudy Giuliani to the cigar industry’s biggest event – and for that they deserve credit. However, it was Rudy Giuliani who let many of us down.