18 Jan 2017
This week saw the introduction of the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2017 in Congress. Sponsored by Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL), the bill would repeal FDA jurisdiction over premium handmade cigars.
The bill defines a premium cigar as meeting four characteristics: It must (1) be wrapped in 100 percent leaf tobacco and bunched in 100 percent tobacco filler; (2) not contain a filter, tip, or non-tobacco mouthpiece; (3) weigh at least 6 pounds per 1,000 count; and (4) have 100 percent tobacco binder and be hand-rolled, or at least made with human hands to lay the wrapper or binder onto one machine that bunches, wraps, and caps the individual cigars, or have a homogenized tobacco leaf binder and be made in the United States using human hands to lay a 100 percent leaf tobacco wrapper onto one machine that bunches, wraps, and caps each individual cigar.
Cigars meeting this definition would no longer be subject to FDA regulations under the bill and would therefore be exempt from the 499-page rule finalized last year by the FDA. That rule mandates any cigar introduced after 2007 to be approved by the FDA for sale by 2018, and for any new cigar after August 2016 to receive FDA approval before being sold in the United States.
This is the fourth consecutive Congress in which the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act has been introduced. When first introduced in 2011, the bill obtained 220 co-sponsors in the House, while a companion measure sponsored in the Senate by Senator Nelson of Florida gained 13 co-sponsors. More recently, the 2015-16 version garnered 170 sponsors in the House and 22 sponsors in the Senate.
Cigar Rights of America Executive Director Glynn Loope said the following about the introduction of the bill in the 2017 Congress: “Since 2011, this legislation has served as a platform to convey the threat such regulations could pose to the premium cigar industry. Now that threat is reality, and Congress, in concert with the new administration, needs to advance measures that not only mitigate the damage of the rules in front of us, but ensure protection from rules yet to come.”
With a new occupant moving into the While House later this week, this is a big year for this legislation. In previous years, even if the bill could have passed both houses of Congress, it faced a likely veto from President Obama who signed the legislation into law authorizing the FDA to regulate cigars back in 2009.
Although incoming President Trump isn’t a cigar smoker (and even cut an anti-smoking PSA), his criticisms of over-regulation have some hopeful that he would sign a bill to protect handmade premium cigars from overbearing FDA rules. Additionally, incoming Vice President Mike Pence is largely viewed as friendly towards tobacco.
But long before this bill gets to the president’s desk, if it ever gets there, it faces significant hurdles. Probably the largest obstacle is opposition in the Senate, where the same anti-tobacco senators that pushed the FDA to accelerate its cigar rules could use the chamber’s filibuster to attempt to block passage, even if there are enough votes in favor.
Still, building support for the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act in the House and Senate sends an important message, even absent the bill becoming law. First, broad support makes it more likely that industry-backed reforms could make it into an appropriations bill. Further, significant support in Congress sends a message to the FDA as the cigar industry continues to lobby the agency to change the rule, or at least implement the regulation in a less-burdensome way.
photo credits: Stogie Guys