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Stogie News: FDA Regulation Threatens Cigars

6 Jul 2009

President Obama signed the so-called “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” into law on June 22, placing tobacco under the jurisdiction of the FDA. While the bill, passed by the House and Senate last week, is primarily directed at cigarettes, it could have significant ramifications for cigars and other tobacco products.

Obama CigarSpecifically, it includes restrictions on tobacco advertising (mandating all cigarette ads be black and white text only and eliminating tobacco sponsorships of sporting events); bars “flavored” cigarettes (including clove, spice, and “candy flavors” but not menthol); requires larger warning labels on packaging; prohibits describing cigarettes as “light,” “mild,” or “low tar;” mandates ingredient disclosure; and gives the FDA the sole authority to approve all new tobacco products.

Not once does the new law specifically refer to premium or handmade “large cigars,” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a major threat to cigar manufacturers and the choices available to cigar smokers. Nearly every provision in the act would be a significant blow if applied to cigars.

So it is clear that the precedent has been set for the regulations to be applied to cigars as well, possibly even without an act of congress. Recently, when I spoke to a number of cigar makers at Famous Smoke Shop’s Cigar Expo, they expressed growing concerns over the prospect of FDA regulation of tobacco.

Charlie Toraño called FDA regulation of cigars a “grave threat” and predicted that politicians could move to regulate cigars sooner than three years from now. He was particularly worried about the marketing restrictions, and noted that holding promotional events where they give out free samples would almost surely be prohibited. He also observed that no one in the industry was prepared for ingredient disclosure, which would cost huge sums in testing and documentation.

Nick Perdomo also talked pasionatly about the threat from the bureaucracy on his business. The combination of FDA regulation, SCHIP tobacco taxes, and smoking bans led him to call the government his “biggest competitor.”

But perhaps the most striking comment on the FDA bill came from someone all too familiar with oppressive government. Jaime Garcia, son of famed cigarmaker Don Pepin Garcia and a top maker in his own right, told me through a translator that coming from Cuba, he couldn’t believe that in America so much power would be given to the government to control his business.

Patrick S

photo credit: Art of Obama

21 Responses to “Stogie News: FDA Regulation Threatens Cigars”

  1. dmjones Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:31 am #

    "Bars “flavored” cigarettes (including clove, spice and “candy flavors” but not menthol)"

    Interestingly enough, the majority of menthol smokers are black; banning menthols could be seen as racist which no one wants to be accused of so they allowed them to remain.

    Bottom line: if they're dangerous, they're dangerous and Big Daddy Government should ban them all. If people should have personal freedom (including harming their own health if they choose to do so), then government should just take a large dose of "shut the hell up" and keep out of our lives.

    Last year the American public spoke, and apparently they want Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to tell them what they can and can't do. Hopefully we can roll some of this nonsense back when the American public regains control of their mental faculties.

  2. Charlie Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:45 am #

    I'm torn. The whole issue itself, and the mindset behind resistance to the bans and laws, are so black-and-white that I just find it hard to take a side either way because I don't want to wear someone else's label. I don't think anyone at this point has the foresight or patience to disentangle the three main sources of conflict (SCHIP, FDA, and local bans) – like this post tries to do – and the entire thing has become one big galloping rhino headed straight for cigar smokers.

    But then, who exactly is "us"? Do I feel some sort of kinship now with the woman who came into our cigar lounge this weekend and chain-smoked a pack of Kools while telling us all (in sop many words) we're all in the same boat? Not really. Do I think that the ban proponents have a case for getting cigarettes out of restaurants? Yeah, kinda. But I definitely think the sweeping generalizations on both sides are part of the problem, and no one has the wherewithal in an age of easy bumpersticker philosophies and sound bite policies to be rational. Moderation took a vacation and we're stuck in traffic with asininity behind the wheel.

  3. Mike Monday, July 6, 2009 at 3:52 am #

    I would not worry too much. Canada has operated under similar laws for about 20 years, and imported cigars from Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic are still available, albeit witth huge taxes on them.

    [Comment edited by the author of the article. See this comment for details.] <del datetime="2009-07-07T16:41:00+00:00">When this bill passed the House last year, Altadis USA supported it, fairly certain handmade cigars woud not be part of any govt action anytime soon. I think that's still the case. The IPCPR says as much.</del>

    And expansion of the law into cigars woulsd have go to through a rulemaking process. The FDA is expected to have its hands full with cigarettes for years. They don't even know how to reduce carcinogens in them or if they can be reduced. That will take a lot of study.

    I don't see them looking at cigars for a long time.

  4. Robert Monday, July 6, 2009 at 7:01 am #

    Thanks Charlie for injecting some sanity into the discussion. This whole issue makes me laugh. On the one hand, these gov't moves make no sense at all, especially funding children's health care plans through people smoking. That's so ironic, it's comical.

    This whole menthol thing is a little crazy too. Someone here said it would be deemed "racist" to ban menthol. I'm not sure that's how it would be perceived. In fact, I'd say there is a good bet that it's going to be seen as "racist" that the gov't allowed menthol cigarettes to continue, since that decision will be sickening and even killing primarily minorities. Some of the more radical minded leftists will read that as a form of government sponsored genocide. I don't think the move was made with racist intent, nor do I think it's intended to hurt minorities. It was probably just a negotiated outcome that allowed the tobacco companies to keep a major market, a market that happens to be mainly black. I do think it's hypocritical though – if flavored cigarettes are dangerous, then they are all dangerous.

    On the other hand, there's the whole "the gubment is out to get us" side, which I also find humorous. News flash: we cigar smokers a very small portion of the population and they don't give a rat's rear about us. We are, at most, collateral damage. They are not out to get us, not "coming for us," or anything like that. These conspiracy-theory ramblings do nothing to help our cause. They only make us look looney when we should be looking like the sane and reasonable side, since the facts are with us.

    Finally, there's the "we smokers are all in the same boat, cigarette and cigar alike" stance. That's pure bull. Cigarette smokers have almost nothing in common with cigar smokers (other than being human), and cigarettes have almost nothing in common with cigars. They are made from different materials, through different processes, with different usages and outcomes in mind. It would be like saying that someone who gets a $9 dessert at an upscale restaurant once a week is in the same boat as a poor diabetic kid who eats Snickers every day for basic sustenance. They're two totally different phenomena with totally difference antecedents and causes, and totally difference effects and outcomes. The issues are deeper and wider than just some vague, intangible, ideological definition of "freedom," as in "freedom to smoke." Let's try to remember that cigarettes really are dangerous, they sicken and kill, they really are addictive, and they really have been marketed to children for decades; three things cigars really are not. Let's also try to remember that the tobacco companies being targeted with this goofy legislation are being targeted because they did spend decades targeting youth markets with a product designed to addict. The legislation may be wrongheaded, but the reasons for its existence are sound. This is not a simple issue, easily broken down into soundbites and rallying cries.

    All the opinions I read on this subject make me wonder what happened to sane, logical analysis in the US. Seems like it went out the window when folks like Limbaugh came on the scene and made it all about black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us, attitudes and stances; all style, no substance. Given the history and seriousness of this, I'd like to see some more sanity and a little less posturing on this issue.

  5. Chris V Monday, July 6, 2009 at 10:05 am #

    But they are coming after us. We may be small, but there are instances of the government specifically targeting cigars in their legislation. I mean, just look at the bill that hugely hiked up taxes for cigars in FLORIDA out of all places (granted it's only for those manufactured ones that stay in the state) but it is most definitely a direct attack, and not an issue of "collateral damage" as you put it.

  6. st Monday, July 6, 2009 at 11:40 am #

    There has to be a common sense middle ground.

    There is no such thing as a "freedom to smoke." Smoking is an inherently intrusive activity; whether or not you are giving someone cancer with secondhand smoke, surely they have a right to say something if you are doing something that crosses their property line and affects their life. A lot of people don't like the smell of smoke; that doesn't make them bad people, they just don't like it. We don't have some "right" to shove smoke up their nose anyway. I mean you would have to be pretty witless to assert that we should be allowed to, say, smoke cigars on airplanes like the old days, with just a hanging curtain between smoking and nonsmoking.

    But! If the airline wanted to sell a ticket to a bulkheaded, climate controlled and vented smoker's section on their plane with no shared air with the other passengers, and charge a premium, I don't know why they shouldn't be able to do that. Which leads right back out to the part of the bans that doesn't make much sense – why can't a business owner choose what goes on in his own establishment, smoking, smoke-free, or otherwise?

    The great old days of a cigar in the office are gone. Smoking is a far, far less widespread habit than it once was, and we are going to have to deal with that.

  7. Dwayne Monday, July 6, 2009 at 4:16 pm #

    Bottom line is we are no longer a free people, we are having our rights stripped from us left and right and every which way but loose. I feel like our government is becoming oppressive and beginning to tell us what we can and cannot enjoy, it is time they become afraid of the people instead of the people afraid. The u.s. government can kiss my white ass. We might as well let Cuba become a state here, Cubans would feel right at home in the what was once the great u.s. of a.

  8. Tony Palazzolo Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 2:05 am #

    Hello all – first I want to point out a couple of things. I'm actively fighting a ban in my hometown of St Louis. You may not like cigarettes smokers, but you need them. As a cigar smoker – we don't have the numbers that move politicians – cigarette smokers do. Cigarette smokers need cigars smokers because in general – we are usually more affluent and tied in to the political process. In the process of getting a ban here – nobody is talking about the difference in cigar and cigarette smoke. Now we could look out for ourselves and push for more exemptions – but the day a ban passes, antitobacco will work on getting the exemptions taken out to "level the playing field". The way I look at it, we need them and they need us.

  9. The Stogie Guys Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 6:39 am #

    Comment number 3 solicited the following response from Altadis USA V.P. Jannelle Rosenfeld via email:

    Comment #3 states that Altadis USA supported the FDA bill. This is not in anyway correct and is 180 degrees from the truth.

    In fact, Theo Folz, our CEO, spoke at the 2008 TAA to a large group of retailers and is on record about his very issue. He made very clear that although our competitor, General Cigar, supported the FDA bill, Altadis USA did not.

  10. craig Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    Maybe I'm in the minority, but I believe cigarettes are dangerous, addictive, and have a devastating effect on our national healthcare costs.. not to mention the emotional pain caused by thousands of deaths every year. I have mixed feelings on the subject, because I value personal freedoms, but I can't get very upset about restrictions on cigarette smoking, nor would I lose any sleep over an outright prohibition on them. After all, the government forces me to wear a seatbelt or put a helmet on my child before she rides her bike; these are all limits on my freedom, but they are sensible limits that save and protect lives.

    Cigars, on the other hand, when consumed in moderation, have never been proven to have the same type of detrimental health effects. They're not marketed to children. They're not designed to be consumed in large quantities. They don't have the same deadly carcinogens (at least, I don't think so. I actually would like mandatory ingredient listings on the box).

    In short, the cigar industry needs to differentiate itself from the cigarette industry. They're different products, consumed differently, with a different customer base. The only thing they have in common is one ingredient: tobacco.

  11. Tony Palazzolo Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 8:59 am #

    Cigarettes are not a healthy choice – but it is a choice. But trust me when I say that antitobacco could care less if your cigarette smoker or a cigar smoker. They frankly don't care and after the cigar boom of the nineties changed their research. If you can still find them, research into cigar smoking showed that as long as people didn't inhale, there was very little risk. They changed that in a way that assumes that cigar smokers inhale. In fact, they will publicaly declare that one cigar is like smoking a whole pack of cigarettes at one time. You have to remember that bans (even the FDA legislation) is backed and in part financed by the pharmacuetical industry. They gain by increasing sales of nicotine replacment products. They don't want people switching from cigarettes to cigars. You should read up on E-cigs which is competitor to the nicotine replacement products. They are being banned along with tobacco products even though they have zero emissions.

  12. Chri Tuesday, July 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    One key point that is being missed here is the government's move toward full contol of health care. There have already been discussions on limiting care to smokers and those that are overweight as a way to contain cost. This attack is coming from other fronts, not just the FDA. I am an insurance geek, thus I speak with some knowledge on this.

  13. Audrey Silk Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    It's comments like #2 and #10 that scare me. YOU can believe with all your heart and soul that cigars and cigarettes are substantially different. But it does not matter what YOU think. It matters what the smoking ban proponents think. And they think it's exactly the same. Smoke is smoke. Here's a little story from just today about New Hampshire relaxing its ban in cigar bars (and good for you I say as a cigarette smoker that aspires to the same) to allow alcohol to be served. This is what the anti-smoking spokesperson had to say about that:

    “This is a major step backwards for New Hampshire in public health,” said Beth D’Ovidio, who handles public relations for Breathe New Hampshire. “We view it as the first chip at eroding the legislation that was passed that provided for smoke-free work environments for … bars and restaurants.”

    On the health front, D’Ovidio said a single cigar can have the tobacco equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes, not to mention the impact of secondhand smoke. The state Department of Health and Human Services opposed the bill because of potential exposure to secondhand smoke, and because cigar bars would be sharing building space with other entities, essentially sharing ventilation. Breathe New Hampshire is worried not only about the people smoking cigars but about those who will work in the environment, presumably those serving alcohol, D’Ovidio said.

    “Secondhand smoke will escape into abutting properties and that they have been allowing smoking in these facilities already is a weakness in the legislation that passed through before,” D’Ovidio said.

    “The notion that smoking a cigar is a hobby, not a habit — it’s still a high-risk behavior,” D’Ovidio said. “In fact, there are even some greater risks with cigars than smoking cigarettes."

    Along with more tobacco and all the chemicals that go along with it, secondhand cigar smoke is frequently more potent, and the slow-smoking nature of cigars makes for longer exposure, D’Ovidio said.

    “People need to remember, a smoker is getting firsthand and secondhand smoke,” D’Ovidio said.


    They want you cigar smokers as much as they want us cigarette smokers. It does the cigar community a great harm to believe cigar smoking is above it somehow and that cigarette smokers are beneath you somehow. I, for one, resist allowing that common belief to interfere with defending cigar smokers even when the belief aggravates me to no end. Divide and conquer is exactly what the anti-smokers strive for. Don't give in.

  14. PJ Friday, July 10, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    This bill is wrong on so many levels. I've read articles stating that "Washington finally takes aim at big tobacco". Who is going to benefit from this legislation? Big tobacco companies that now have a bill that will legally allow them to push their competitors out of the picture. Every tobacco producing company will fund this legislation raising the costs on all tobacco products. It infringes on our personal freedoms, it costs American jobs, and it does little to stop the problem of underage smoking.

  15. Dave Patrick Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 6:52 am #

    I wish I had known that you guys were at the Famous event. I have been wanting to meet you.

    Look me up next. Although, if you made your rounds I'm sure we spoke at briefly.

    Dave – John Hay Cigar company

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