By Cynthia Cabrera
I like to write hotel reviews because I use them to make a decision about where I stay, so I believe I should contribute to them and not just not consume them. During the first leg of this flight (Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to Dallas-Ft. Worth) I pulled out the list of hotels that I still needed to review—it went back to February. Hotel after hotel I had stayed in suddenly blurred together into one indistinguishable room. That long list of hotels reminded me of the nonstop swirl of activity that marked 2015.
I currently am on a flight connecting from Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas to Sacramento, Calif. to meet with the California Attorney General. It’s Dec. 3, and the Christmas season is upon us. I am desperately hoping this is my last trip of 2015, but I doubt it. When I return home, I’ll do some shopping, put up my Christmas tree, enjoy the Florida weather, and hang out with the friends I have neglected all year in service to my job.
In 2014 (reasonably) I predicted that 2015 would be one massively busy legislative year (that didn’t even include dealing with the then still pending “deeming regulations”), and 2015 absolutely tried to kick the vapor industry’s ass.
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From February 2015 to November 2015, SFATA introduced 16 additional state chapters; most of them born from the sudden imperative a group of SFATA members in a particular state had to band together to fight a common enemy. Recognizing that members already were seriously overburdened by their businesses (and maybe to a certain extent psychologically exhausted by the looming fights) SFATA decided to make the formation of a chapter be as simple as possible; we removed almost every barrier to entry other than the most minimal.
Legislative challenges were the worst in states like California, Texas, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Other state chapters formed in areas where the threat of crushing vaping was not at the top of lawmakers to-do list and in those states, members were able to focus on growth and outreach.
I logged more miles in the air than I did in 2014—and that’s saying something. I traveled to the state capitol in Texas and California to work with members there and held phone conferences with many other states, members, advocates and lobbyists to determine strategy.
Even while attempting to address legislative issues in states that didn’t even have chapters, we also executed the best conference SFATA has had to date. We secured Mitch Zeller (aka Determiner of Our Fate) as our keynote speaker. That coup came about thanks to a wonderful relationship I had established with a contact at FDA. “We’re not your enemy,” she said to me at one meeting, “if you ever need anything just let me know and I’ll help you.” Director Zeller’s appearance at our conference marked the first time he had spoken at any vapor anything—ever.
The exhaustion and sense of satisfaction I experienced after the conference was over is still vivid in my mind. That conference cemented SFATA as THE voice of the vapor industry and validated all the hard work we had been doing until then. The few naysayers and detractors that have their fun attempting to find fault with SFATA paid their conference fee to attend and be part of it just like everyone else.
The whirlwind pace died down thankfully, as most legislative sessions ended in the summer, leaving a sliver of time for SFATA to prepare for elections in the fall. We held our first ever member-wide election resulting in a very different looking board, comprised of almost all new people. What an exciting and scary thing! Whereas our previous board had been composed of people who helped to either start the association or had been selected by those people, this new board reflects the membership needs and wants.
The future of SFATA will be determined by a group of people with big stakes in the vapor industry who bring a high level of commitment to the organization.
Now, we almost are at the close of 2015 and I cannot wait to be home, but when I think back on 2015 I recall some of the great experiences I had that were cemented into fond memories:
- The absolute blast I had at our conference when everyone in the room agreed to be part of my “selfie”—160 people sharing in my fun and loving it.
- Hanging out with my California peeps, Mark Burton (aka Pinky), Doug Hughes, Stefan Didak, working hard, keeping each other company, laughing hard and ultimately enjoying a great friendship.
- Slipping and sliding down the pavement with Schell Hammel as we made our way to the capitol building in Austin in a snowstorm and 22 degree weather, but sure that we would own the day.
- Hanging out (in more than one bar) with friends old and new, from the United States, England, France, Brussels, China and Italy in more places than I can recall.
- My 7 a.m. phone calls with Vicky Vasconcellos predicting what new crisis would hit the fan the fan that day.
- Sharing a home with other industry advocates laughing and chatting late into the night while we solved the world’s problems.
- Chris Hughes, Kim Templeton, Cheryl Richter and Will Cohen always there, offering support and my amazing chapter people—the most generous and gracious people I’ve ever met.
- My biweekly calls with Julie Woessner of CASAA, a nearperfect professional alliance and a friendship I have come to appreciate greatly.
- Sarkis Kaladzhyan surprising me with birthday lunch because I was in Los Angeles away from my family.
- The absolute (and short-lived) euphoria I experienced after we defeated the dreaded SB140 in California’s legislature.
- The warm and welcoming way people I’ve never met have greeted me.
My job is hard and it is practically 24/7, but the friendships, shared struggle and (occasional) wins make it easier to do. People familiar with my workload frequently ask me if I enjoy my job and I am happy to report that I do. Soon I’ll be home and enjoying Christmas, my family and my pets. Knowing that I collaborate with such an outstanding group of people will make packing my suitcase again something I look forward to in 2016. We fight on.
Cynthia Cabrera is president and CEO of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, the leading and largest trade association dedicated to the education, promotion and continued innovation of vapor products.