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An Open Letter to the FDA

3 Mar 2014

Mr. Mitch Zeller
Director, Center for Tobacco Products
U.S. Food & Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20993

Dear Mr. Zeller:

As the FDA considers adding cigars to its tobacco regulation portfolio, I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to help you better understand one small component of that industry: premium, hand-rolled cigars.

I confess, first, that I smoke premium cigars, usually one a day since I retired in 2005. I smoked cigarettes for decades before quitting 30 or so years ago. I’ve been smoking premium cigars for the past 10-12 years and can swear they’re nothing like cigarettes. I also write about cigars for a website, StogieGuys.com.

While I could go on nearly forever, I won’t. I know you are busy, so I will confine myself to just a handful of issues I fervently hope you’ll consider.

Don’t be misled. There’s virtually no legitimate scientific data dealing specifically with premium, hand-rolled cigars. Most of what you’ll see relating to cigars is heavily weighted toward machine-made cigars, which have no more in common with premium, hand-rolled cigars than do cigarettes. Premium, hand-rolled cigars consist only of tobacco (no paper, no additives); smokers of premium, hand-rolled cigars do not inhale; and those who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars do so by choice, not any addiction. According to several surveys, those who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars usually smoke only one or two a week, often fewer. Also, studies involving youth cigar smoking do not distinguish between premium, hand-rolled cigars and machine-made cigars. Premium, hand-rolled cigars are not aimed at under-age youth, are rarely, if ever, smoked by them, and are not readily available to them. It is, in short, not a problem.

Consider what you’re dealing with. The number of U.S. consumers who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars is small. Very small. About 350-400 million premium, hand-rolled cigars are smoked annually in the U.S. Machine-made cigars, little cigars, and cigarillo sales are measured in the billions.

Don’t overestimate the problem. Certainly, smoking premium, hand-rolled cigars presents some health risk, as do many other activities. Everyone who smokes premium cigars knows that. And they freely choose to accept it—and can freely give it up. These days, virtually no one is in the presence of a cigar smoker unless they choose to be. Ask yourself when was the last time you were unwillingly around someone smoking a premium, hand-rolled cigar.

Take a first-hand look. I can’t urge you strongly enough to visit a couple of cigar shops and talk with the owners and patrons. This is important for several reasons, chief among them the belief among those who don’t patronize cigar shops that they are akin to opium dens or fancy clubs for oligarchs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most cigar shops are incredible mixing places where men and women of all social strata, political persuasions, races, and income levels gather, talk, relax, and engage in the kind of open, democratic atmosphere any American would applaud. I realize that pleasure derived from premium, hand-rolled cigars isn’t likely to be considered in the FDA’s decision. But no decision should be made in a vacuum. The D.C. area, where I lived for many years before retiring to Florida, is home to a broad array of great cigar shops, including several not far from your Silver Spring office. Drop in and I think you’ll be surprised. If you’d like a guide, I’m sure I can prevail upon my colleague, Patrick S, who lives in the area, to accompany you.

Others can address far better than I additional important issues related to premium, hand-rolled cigars, such as the potential economic impact in the U.S. and its Latin American trading partners, or the artisanal craft involved. But if I can provide any further information, please let me know. I’d welcome the opportunity.

My hope is that you and others in the FDA will recognize that premium, hand-rolled cigars should not be lumped together with other tobacco products and that you will exempt them from further regulation.

I am posting this as an open letter on StogieGuys.com but, since I’m pretty sure you won’t see it there, I am also mailing a copy to your office.

Thanks for your time and attention. I hope that, at the least, I’ve helped you think a bit more about this topic. And I hope you’ll guide your Center in making the correct decision.

Sincerely,

George Edmonson

Drew Estate

9 Responses to “An Open Letter to the FDA”

  1. Rodrigo Monday, March 3, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Well said, George. I hope Mr. Zeller takes your advice to heart.

  2. David Monday, March 3, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    Fantastic letter, George! We should all send copies of it to our senators and congressmen to let them know the facts rather than the misconceptions.

    • George E Monday, March 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

      David – Feel free to crib any parts of the letter you'd like. I'm a firm believer that everyone who enjoys cigars should communicate with their elected representatives.

  3. Joey Jobes Monday, March 3, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Very well thought out and well written letter, George. While the issue of premium cigar regulation is one that (obviously) bothers me, it also concerns me when I see cigar smokers become violently reactionary and obscene about the issue. Civil, logical, effective, and concise discourse is the best course of action, and this is a great example.

  4. Swede214 Monday, March 3, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    Thank You George for writing that letter and sending it to Mr. Zeller. We all hope he will be understanding about your comments.

  5. Paul Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Well done for explaining why you feel cigars should be exempted, but I fear it leans too heavily on the type of argument that will have little to no impact. If we want to succeed in the face of regulatory doom, we need to focus on two things, the impact to commerce that the near loss of the industry would have, and the scientific evidence that demonstrates the difference in health risks between cigars and cigarettes.

    Also, I think it would behoove us to drop the use of the word "premium" in these discussions. It only furthers the idea of cigars as a luxury item enjoyed by the wealthy. While those within the industry, and its dedicated patrons understand the meaning, others don't. We should stick to the term "hand-made cigars" without the premium designation.

    • george e. Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 10:18 am #

      Paul – Thanks for responding. My intent was primarily to try to put a human perspective on an issue that too often is swamped in harsh rhetoric and misstatements. I did, though, note both of your points, though perhaps not in the way you suggest. (Frankly, though, I believe the economic impact in the U.S. would be so negligible it wouldn't even show up nationally. Of course, for those affected it would be disastrous. As Harry Truman noted, "It's a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it's a depression when you lose yours." ) Regarding "premium," I, too, share your concern about the image of cigars and, again, made a reference to that in my letter. It is, however, the common terminology and that's why I used it. I know Zeller will understand what I'm referring to. Overall, as I've said before, I'd urge everyone to contact their elected representatives and officials such as Zeller and make their case. The more, the better!

      • Mike Friday, March 7, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

        And it should be noted that the makers of handmade cigars, which are more expensive and smoked and advertised much less than the machine-made versions, have been working hard to distinguish themselves from the larger companies that produce Black & Milds or the grape, cherry and wine-flavored cigars that brought cigars to the attention of the FDA.

        Altria, which is part of Phillip Morris and makes B&Ms, does not want handmade cigars to have any regulatory advantages that their machine-made smokes don't enjoy.

  6. Dave Mattison Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 1:52 am #

    Great Post George