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News: Light Up Congress

21 Jun 2011

The bill to keep the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from regulating premium cigars as part of its newly acquired tobacco oversight is inching along in Congress. The latest advance is a few more co-sponsors—including a second Democrat—putting the total at 22.

“We’re still pushing the bill,” George Cecala, spokesman for Rep. Bill Posey, the Florida Republican who introduced the bill in April, told me the other day. He added that the congressman, described by Cecala as an occasional cigar smoker, is especially concerned about potential job losses if FDA cigar regulations are adopted.

What’s needed now is for you to join the push by getting in touch with your representative and urging support for the bill, known as HR 1639.

It could be a milestone for cigar regulation. It would constitute legislative recognition of premium cigars for a reason other than taxation and establish an even sharper distinction from cigarettes. As such, it would make it easier, and more likely, for premium cigars to be excluded from future regulations.

Now I know there are smokers who consider it heretical to argue for favoring one form of tobacco over another. They believe that everyone who uses tobacco should be fighting every restriction on every form. Frankly, to me that’s not only impractical; it’s detrimental for cigar smokers.

Impractical because I think the cigarette battle is already over. Regulations and restrictions will continue and, without a clear distinction established, cigars will continue to be drawn in. (I’d include pipe smoking with cigars, but that’s not under consideration here.)

Detrimental because cigarettes and cigars have no more in common than does a showroom Chevy and the dragster at the SuperNationals or a bottle of MD 20/20 and a bottle of Château Latour. Sharing traits doesn’t make things identical. Consider the effects wrought by a only few percentage points of differences in the DNA of chimps and humans.

Cigarettes—and, I would argue, nearly all machine-made and “little” cigars—are nicotine delivery systems. Premium cigars are not. Cigarettes are addictive. Premium cigars are not. Cigarettes are available nearly everywhere. Premium cigars are not. Cigarette smoking by underage teens is widely seen as a problem. Underage smokers don’t light up premium cigars. I could go on. But the differences are obvious from almost any angle. Just one more analogy: When states and agencies attacked caffeinated alcohol drinks, I don’t think wine industry trade groups jumped to their defense.

Another reason HR1639 needs your support is that the premium cigar industry is pretty small, however you want to measure it. Number of smokers, amount of product, sales, taxes, employees…

Groups like the Cigar Association of America, Cigar Rights of America, and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association work hard and are worthy of support, but they‘re not wielding massive artillery. Grass roots efforts can have a significant impact.

Make no mistake about it, either. Impact is necessary. Because, contrary to the popular notion of Congress passing legislation willy-nilly, the truth is that only about 5-10% of the bills introduced by members each term are approved and signed into law, and many of those are just ceremonial, like naming a building. Right now, HR1639 sits in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health, with no hearings held or scheduled.

It’s really a simple bill, excluding “traditional large and premium cigars” from FDA oversight under the 2010 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. A traditional large and premium cigar is basically defined as “any roll of tobacco that is wrapped in leaf tobacco, contains no filter, and weighs at least 6 pounds per 1,000 count.”

I hope you’re convinced. Taking action doesn’t really take much effort. Tips are available here. Let’s all get behind this. And maybe before too long we can light up a victory cigar.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate

4 Responses to “News: Light Up Congress”

  1. Mike Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 3:47 am #

    I signed the online petition about three weeks ago and actually received a personally written letter from my rep, Rep Sensenbrenner(R-WI) stating that such a bill would only do further harm to our already struggling economy. We actually have friends in Washington, we just need to be louder than the nanny state whiners!

  2. George E Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    By the way, if you want to know whether your Rep has signed on as co-sponsor, you can check here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:1:./…

  3. Mike Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I highly doubt this bill is very important to this — or any — Congress, and am sure the health lobby would kill it if it developed legs. FDA oversight of cigars is still a ways off — they have only filed notice of intent and have take no other steps. Further, based on what other countries such as Canada have done regulating their premium tobacco markets, I am skeptical FDA regs would amount to much more than a little added tax.

    Many of cigarette marketing restrictions in the FDA law are tied up in court, and I do not think the govt will spend a lot of time or money regulating a very small niche industry like handmade cigars, whose products are already expensive.

    "Little cigars" and even handmade flavored sticks could come under fire, but apart from the cherry-flavored little cigars now popping up everywhere, cigars were never the focus of this act.

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