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Commentary: The FDA’s Unwarranted Targeting of ‘Flavored’ Handmade Cigars

22 May 2014


Hopefully cigar connoisseurs have woken up to the threat posed by impending FDA regulation of handmade cigars. If not, it can be summarized like this:

Given what we know about the FDA approval process, if new cigars are required to seek FDA approval before being sold, then effectively there will be no new handmade cigars introduced. When it comes to requiring that type of pre-approval, the FDA has proposed two options: (1) all cigars must get their pre-approval, or (2) the vast majority of cigars must get FDA pre-approval.

Under option two (as it’s referred to in the FDA’s deeming document), a small percentage of new cigars would become exempt by meeting an arbitrarily restrictive definition of “premium cigar.” When it comes to the FDA’s proposed definition, the $10 price floor for a cigar to be “premium” has gotten much attention because it’s so obviously ill-conceived.

Less attention has been paid to the second most problematic aspect of option two’s definition of premium cigars: an effective prohibition (due to the difficulty of FDA approval) on cigars with “characterizing flavor” other than tobacco. Even setting aside definitional problems, like the fact that the Fuente Anejo could be characterized as having a characterizing flavor because the wrappers are aged in rum barrels (or that the FDA has refused to say if cedar aging could be considered “characterizing flavor), there is a big problem with the FDA’s rationale.

The problem with effectively banning new flavored cigars is there is no rational reason to do so. There is no research I’ve seen to suggest that handmade flavored (or infused) cigars are smoked more often by children, nor do they pose any additional health risks.

When President Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act (which authorizes the FDA to regulate tobacco) he said the following: “Removing these flavored products from the market is important because it removes an avenue that young people can use to begin regular tobacco use.” That may be true of cigarettes (and possibly even small cigars and machine-made products), but not cigars like Drew Estate Acid, Rocky Patel Java, or CAO Flavours.

Let’s be honest. Many handmade cigar smokers look down on flavored cigars (my preference is for “traditional” cigars too). But if you think about who you’ve seen buying these cigars, they are still not underage or even particularly young. I strongly suspect much of the survey data that says machine-made cigars in general, and flavored machine-made cigars in particular, may be more likely to be used by youth is a function of them being used in tandem with illegal drugs, which is entirely unrelated to youth smoking issues.

The fact is, all handmade cigars are about flavor, as opposed to being primarily nicotine delivery devices like cigarettes, something the FDA implicitly recognized when considering a premium cigar exemption. And following that logic to it’s conclusion, there’s no reason to discriminate against those who like their cigars with coffee flavors as opposed to full of Nicaraguan Ligero or with a flavorful Broadleaf wrappers.

It’s just another reason why cigar smokers should let their voices be heard during the FDA’s comment period to oppose regulation, including pre-approval of handmade cigars.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

7 Responses to “Commentary: The FDA’s Unwarranted Targeting of ‘Flavored’ Handmade Cigars”

  1. George E. Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Patrick – Another factor that I believe tends to distort the issue of cigars and underage smokers is the broad definition of "cigars" and the way in which tobacco companies, after SCHIP, moved to create cigarette substitutes that qualified as cigars and were, therefore, subject to lower taxes. And young smokers as a group tend to be pretty price sensitive, which leads to more of them smoking "cigars." Of course, all this has nothing to do with premium cigars.

    • Mike Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 10:55 am #

      I agree. That tax dodge, while totally expected by anyone who follows the cigar industry, did no favors to the premium sales segment (which is quite small compared with machine-made sticks).

      Altria/Philip Morris, which I believe owns Middleton's Black & Mild pipe tobacco cigar line, does not want any exemption for so-called premium cigars. Since the FDA cigarette regulations mostly benefit them, I am sure they are pushing hard for their side this time as well.

  2. Jim Luftman Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    The FDA banned flavored cigarettes and wants to ban flavored cigars because it make them attractive to children. Anyone want to hazard a guess what these are flavors of???

    Apple, Atomic Hots, Banana, Berry,Blackberry, Black Currant, Blueberry, Bubble Gum, Candied Ginger, Candy Apple, Cherry, Chiffon, Chocolate. Citrus, Coconut, Cookie Dough, Cotton Candy, Cranberry, Coffee (Espresso), Cucumber, Cupcake, Devil's Food, Dutch Caramel, Frosting, Fruit Loops, Ginger Snap, Grape, Grapefruit, Gummy, Herbs, Jaffa Cake, Key Lime, King Cake, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Mango, Maple Syrup, Marshmallow, Melon, Meringue Pie, Orange, Orange Cream, Passionfruit, PB&J, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Pink Lemonade, Pomegranate, Pumpkin Pie, Raspberry, Root Beer, Salmon, S'mores, Spice, Strawberry, Sugar Cookie, Tomato, Vanilla, Watermelon, Whipped Cream

    How about Flavored VODKAS!!! A bit hypocritical, don't you think?

    • Mike Friday, May 23, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

      The FDA does not regulate alcohol. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau handle that. And the number of drinkers in the US far outnumbers tobacco users and they don't have a social stigma if they consume in moderation.

      They have more powerful lobby, too.

  3. Patrick S Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    BTW, here's an excellent piece from the CAA that I came across today providing more facts to back up the claim that there is no fact-based reason to targe flavored cigars:

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Cigar Legislation Roundup: The FDA, Taxes, and the Military | Famous Cigar Blog - Monday, June 2, 2014

    […] Do you enjoy an infused or flavored handmade cigar? That enjoyment may run afoul of the FDA’s idea to mandate approval of new blends in cigars, as well as #7 in their proposed definition, that a premium would not “have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco.” Stogie Guy Patrick S. drills down on the proposed regulations that would affect cigars like Drew Estate ACID, Rocky Patel Java, CAO Flavours, and many others. If the FDA proceeds with Option 2, he writes, it’s likely to mean “an effective prohibition (due to the difficulty of FDA approval) on cigars with ‘characterizing flavor’ other than tobacco. Even setting aside definitional problems, like the fact that the Fuente Añejo could be characterized as having a characterizing flavor because the wrappers are aged in rum barrels (or that the FDA has refused to say if cedar aging could be considered ‘characterizing flavor’), there is a big problem with the FDA’s rationale.”  Follow his thinking here:… […]

  2. Cigar Tip: Submitting Your Comment to the FDA to Protect Handmade Cigars | The Stogie Guys - Thursday, June 19, 2014

    […] cigars differently from non-flavored premium, handmade cigars (for more on that point check out this piece I wrote a few weeks ago). Second, given the FDA’s limited budget and the fact that it has […]