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Commentary: The FDA Should Not Be in the Business of Regulating Premium Cigars

25 Jul 2018

FDA-cigars-large

The deadline for comments to the Food and Drug Administration about whether or not it should regulate handmade cigars are due today at midnight. You should submit your comments here.

If you are wondering what to tell the FDA, we gave some succinct suggestions here. Our comments the FDA were a little more in depth. We reprint them here in their entirety:

As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, respectively, of the cigar news and review site StogieGuys.com, and as cigar consumers, we strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to completely rescind—or, at the very least, significantly curtail—all FDA regulations that apply to handmade cigars.

We have been reporting and writing about the premium cigar industry for over a decade (since StogieGuys.com’s founding in May 2006) That level of experience is not required to understand that, because of their natural and handmade production process, premium cigars will always be an inferior product, compared to other tobacco products, when it comes to effective nicotine delivery. That, combined with their high price point, makes premium handmade cigars particularly unattractive to underage tobacco users. In sum, the interests of public health and harm reduction are not served by regulating premium handmade cigars.

Our comments today reincorporate our comments to the FDA from August 27, 2014 in opposition to any regulations of handmade cigars. Our comments then made five key points, each of which continues to be a compelling reason to not regulate handmade cigars, especially when compared to existing efforts to enforce pre-2016 regulations on cigarettes and other tobacco products:

1. Cigars are fundamentally different from cigarettes and most other types of tobacco.

2. The FDA should not extend authority at all, and certainly not to handmade cigars, because it lacks the ability to do so [given current and future budget constraints].

3. If the FDA erroneously chooses to [continue to] regulate cigars, it should adopt a premium handmade cigar exemption that doesn’t rely on an arbitrary price, or flavor distinctions.

4. FDA regulations on premium cigars will cost jobs, both domestically and abroad. (Avoiding unemployment is almost universally considered good for your health. For example, experts have found (https://bit.ly/2A1X1lZ) that “people who are unemployed: have poorer physical and mental health overall, consult their [primary physician] more, are more likely to be admitted to hospital, [and] have higher death rates.”)

5. The FDA should focus on existing regulations, not expanding new regulations to handmade cigars.

Subjects one, two, four, and five demonstrate why the FDA’s mission of public health, with a special focus on the prevention of tobacco use by minors, should exempt handmade cigars so the focus can be on cigarettes and other tobacco products that fulfill the FDA’s above-stated goals.

We further emphasize the third key point made in our 2016 comments regarding a potential definition used for premium or handmade cigars: If the FDA decides to exempt “premium” cigars, it should do so based on the artisanal techniques used to produce handmade cigars. If, however, the FDA insists on using product cost to draw such a line, it should rely on the only line drawn by Congress which limited SCHIP tax rates to the first 40.26 cents of the wholesale price per cigar (i.e., cigars with a wholesale price above 40.26 cents should be exempt and classified as premium cigars).

Regulation of Handmade Cigars Won’t Advance the FDA’s Stated Goals

If the FDA is devoted to deploying its resources to pursue an agenda of harm reduction, this militates against regulating handmade cigars. The undeniable truth is virtually every human activity—including choices about diet, exercise, healthcare, social relationships, etc.—comes with some health risk. The FDA has recently moved towards a focus on risk-reduction, whereby regulatory activity is judged by its net effects, taking into account that regulation can and will steer individuals towards other, more or less risky, activities. Decreased regulation of handmade cigars logically follows from these stated goals.

Those who have read the National Institute of Health’s “Monograph 9: Cigars: Health Effects and Trends” and overviews of the health impacts of cigarette use will conclude that if the average cigarette smoker were suddenly transformed into the average handmade cigar smoker, public health would be far better off. Cigar smokers tend to smoke far less frequently and are therefore are far more capable of quitting, should they decide to.

The Regulation of Handmade Cigars Will Be Unwieldy

While handmade cigars are made in what is called a “cigar factory,” ultimately compared to most modern standardized manufacturing practices, the very nature of handmade cigars is far less precise than other more mass-market tobacco products. In fact, it is fair to say that the basic cigar manufacturing process has evolved little in decades, or perhaps even centuries.

Cigars are made with very broad specifications, which leaves significant discretion to each cigar roller to produce a final cigar that bares the key characteristics of the blend but is ultimately tweaked slightly to produce a cigar that will still combust and taste as expected by the consumer. The fact is, each cigar leaf is not identical in size, nor can each tobacco be produced uniformly because each frequently comes from a different farm (and part of that farm), a different growing season, and had been hand-processed by a different person.

In other words, no two handmade cigars are ever identical. This makes any attempt to regulate cigars through an FDA pre-approval process inherently unwieldy and unworkable.

The FDA’s Limited Resources Should Be Focused On More Consequential Tasks

Perhaps most critically, the FDA should exempt handmade cigars. Given existing fiscal realities, FDA regulation of handmade cigars would mean less regulatory resources elsewhere. If the FDA had infinite resources to regulate all tobacco products, the correct question to ask would be: Can regulation of handmade cigars create any net health benefit? But even if it could, that is not the reality the FDA faces today, or will ever face.

In a world of growing deficits, increasing financial obligations from entitlement spending, and little appetite for large tax increases, the FDA must accept it is increasingly being asked to do more with less, or at the very least more with the same resources, especially considering its existing large portfolio of non-tobacco regulatory mandates. In that light, the real question the FDA should ask as it considers whether to undertake the regulation of handmade cigars is: Will regulation of handmade cigars, to the detriment of other FDA regulatory activities, create a net gain in public health or risk reduction?

When judged against the potential impact of deploying FDA resources elsewhere, the considerable resources that would need to be devoted to any regulation of handmade cigars (which overwhelmingly produced in jurisdictions outside the United States) cannot be justified. Studies do not show that handmade cigars are used in any meaningful amounts by minors, and in fact even the previous FDA-cited justifications conflated handmade cigar use with use of non-handmade cigars, and also repeatedly conflated tobacco use by adults as old as 25 or even 29 with those of minors (see: https://bit.ly/2dIDpan), almost certainly because of the lack of evidence that studies show that actual minors are using handmade cigars. Whether the FDA chooses to focus on public health overall or tobacco use by minors, regulation of handmade cigars does not serve that goal when compared to using the same taxpayer dollars elsewhere.

Finally, while we believe current overwhelming evidence should cause the FDA to leave handmade cigars out of its tobacco regulation regime, such a decision would not preclude the FDA from, should new evidence be produced or documented use patterns change, revisiting the issue at later date. Barring an act of Congress specifically exempting handmade cigars (there has been, and continues to be, wide bipartisan support for such an exemption), the FDA will still retain such regulatory powers to be deployed later under the Tobacco Control Act.

When it comes to the many tasks given to the FDA by Congress, whether for tobacco regulations or other public health goals, regulating the small percentage of tobacco products that constitute handmade cigars at this time cannot advance the FDA’s larger goals of risk reduction and overall public health compared to deploying the FDA’s limited resources elsewhere. Therefore, we ask the FDA to eliminate its current regulations of handmade cigars.

Patrick A & Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Five Early Standouts from the 2018 IPCPR Trade Show

18 Jul 2018

Despite a small electrical fire that caused a little damage to some booths by setting off the sprinkler system, and a outbreak of the flu at the host hotel, the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show is in full roar in Las Vegas. While IPCPR occasionally holds the convention, the biggest of the year for handmade cigars, in other cities, any who attended multiple trade shows can tell you the event is at its natural home when it is in Las Vegas.

Like many, we’re still digging through the many press releases and announcements of new cigars, so we reserve the right to add to this list. But here are five new cigars we’re particularly excited to check out when they hit shelves in the coming months:

Illusione OneOff

Actually announced a couple months ago, OneOff is a reboot of a cigar that was popular in early 2000s but faded away only for Illusione owner Dion Giolito to purchase the trademark last year. The eight-vitola line is made at TABSA and, while Giolito is being tight-lipped about the exact blend, given Illusione’s track-record this is a cigar I’m looking forward to.

Drew Estate Liga Privada 10-Year Anniversario

Ten years, ago Drew Estate introduced Liga Privada and completely changed the way cigar smokers thought about Drew Estate, which up until that point had been primarily a maker of infused cigars. As production and demand increased, many (myself included) felt Liga Privada, while still good, was not as exceptional as when it first arrived. Will the 10th Anniversary release of Liga Privada hearken back to the standout days when the brand first burst onto the scene? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Nestor Miranda 75th Anniversary

Nestor Miranda’s Miami Cigar Co. and Don José “Pepin” Garcia have collaborated to make some of my favorite cigars over the years. So Pepin making a Nicaraguan puro for his longtime collaborator Nestor Miranda is something I’m particularly interested in trying. The large, salomon-sized cigar features a Corojo wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler. Only 15,000 are scheduled to be made, and I’m looking forward to trying one.

Partagas Legend

Partagas Legend is a tribute to five legendary cigar men who contributed to the Partagas brand: Jaime Partagas, Ramon Cifuentes, Edgar Cullman Sr., Daniel Nunez, and Benji Menendez. The box-pressed cigar uses a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper, Honduran binder, and Dominican Piloto Cubano filler. The Partagas brand is, in my opinion, too frequently overlooked, but I don’t plan to overlook the Partagas Legend.

Aging Room Puro Cepa

To say Rafael Nodal has been busy lately would be an understatement. In addition to his Aging Room brand, he has joined with Altadis’ Tabacalera USA. We could just as easily have picked the new Montecristo Nicaragua for this final pick, but perhaps more interesting is Aging Room’s new Nicaraguan cigar called Puro Cepa. Made with tobaccos from all four major Nicaraguan growing regions (Ometepe, Jalapa, Condega, and Estelí), it is the rare Nicaraguan puro from Aging Room which has made some very under-the-radar cigars in recent years.

Patrick S

photo credit:  IPCPR

Commentary: Cigar Enthusiasts Could Benefit from a Little More Talking

11 Jun 2018

They’re commonly called shelf-talkers. Those little cards or stickers you see so often on store shelves to entice you to buy the highlighted product.

They’re ubiquitous in grocery stores, omnipresent in wine shops, and in many other retail outlets. In cigar stores, though, not so much.

Of course, some cigar manufacturers provide them, and some retailers display them. But I don’t believe they are nearly as common as they should be.

When you’re looking through a humidor hoping to find something you’ve never encountered or a cigar you’ve heard of but haven’t tried, wouldn’t it be helpful to quickly see the basics? By that, I’m referring primarily to the tobaccos used, although we know more would be better.

I find it interesting that tobacco information is regularly included in the descriptions of online and catalog offerings, even if it is sometimes incorrect. Does it make sense that customers have less access to such material when they’re in a store devoted to cigars?

Now, I know some will say you should ask the retailer. And that can work if you are focusing on only one or two cigars, and the staffer you talk to knows the answers. On the other hand, if you’re someone like me who can spend a lot of time looking, considering, and generally doing a Hamlet imitation before choosing a cigar, all that asking isn’t feasible.

More often than not, the alternative is to look up the cigar on a mobile device and try to find what you’re looking for. Personally, I hate spending time doing this, knowing that so many manufacturers’ websites aren’t up to date and information on other sites sometimes conflicts.

I’m aware, too, that some manufacturers don’t want to reveal much of anything to their customers. Cigar fans have been pushing this boulder up the hill for years without, sadly, much success. I wonder whether some of this is a holdover from years past when cigar smokers tended to buy the same brand and size again and again. When that was the case, supplying more information likely seemed superfluous.

Perhaps if shelf-talkers became commonplace in cigar shops, reluctant companies would feel more pressure to go along.

It’s also possible that store owners fear their humidors could end up looking like the shelves at the local dollar store. It’s not for nothing that another name for shelf-talkers is shelf-screamers. And then there are the ones that move. They’re shelf-wobblers.

I think it is quite possible to have shelf-talkers that are discreet and informative. Check out the Sindicato example above. Wouldn’t it be nice if at least that was readily available for every cigar?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Looking Back to Appreciate the Present

30 May 2018

We’ve often remarked here at StogieGuys.com about how easy it is to get caught up in the “what’s new” syndrome. Nowadays, though, federal regulations have put something of a crimp in many cigar makers’ releases. Looking for something new isn’t what it once was.

So, it seems like a good time to revisit some cigars that you may have forgotten or, perhaps, never tried. There are many, many good candidates for this exercise, but here are three suggestions I’ve revisited recently:

Sindicato: This blend was introduced about four years ago and garnered numerous positive reviews, including a StogieGuys.com four-stogie rating for the Corona Gorda. After the debut of the Sindicato Maduro, the original line, available in six vitolas, became referred to as the Sindicato Natural. The shade-grown Corojo wrapper and the Nicaraguan binder and filler leaves were blended by Casa Fernandez’s Arsenio Ramos. I smoked several when it came out and was, like most, favorably impressed. But it had been a few years since I picked up one. And when I decided to revisit some smokes from the past, this came quickly to mind. I’m glad it did. I may have enjoyed the Sindicato Natural more now than I did before. I smoked a couple of different sizes, and each was excellent. They offer full flavor, complexity, and near-perfect burn, draw, and smoke production. The flavors are numerous and varied, starting with spice that is soon tinged with a touch of cinnamon. Other flavors include coffee, nuts, and some bold pepper. The Sindicato Natural is definitely worth revisiting.

San Cristobal: The cigar Ashton calls “the cornerstone” of its collaboration with Don José “Pepin” Garcia and his My Father Cigars operation in Nicaragua, the original San Cristobal launched in 2007. Four have been reviewed by StogieGuys.com, and two received four stogies (Fabuloso and Selección del Sol Robusto). It is an incredibly diverse line. The original San Cristobal comes in ten sizes. Currently, the other extensions are Elegancia (Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper) in six sizes; Quintessence (Ecuadorian Habano wrapper) in five sizes; Revelation (Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper) in six sizes; and the limited-edition Ovation (San Andrés wrapper) in three sizes. Over the years, I’ve smoked all of these. It was tough to settle on a single one for this project, but I opted for the Revelation. I reviewed the Mystic (5.6 x 48) back in 2014 and was curious how Revelation would stand up now. This time, I lit the longer, fatter Legend (6.25 x 52), which was No. 18 on Cigar Aficionado’s top 25 list for 2014. I’d probably rank it higher. A medium-strength smoke, it is smooth, balanced, and satisfying. There’s an enticing mix of sweetness and spice in a cigar well worth picking up.

Four Kicks: As hard as it might be to believe, it’s been seven years since Crowned Heads’ initial offering launched. One of the most anticipated cigars at the time, Four Kicks was a big success. We reviewed the Corona Gorda twice and rated it highly both times. Since then, Nashville-based Crowned Heads has continued to produce excellent smokes, including several limited releases. Going for those newer smokes might lead some to overlook the cigar that started it all. Not me. I’ve been working my way through a box of the Corona Gordas over the past couple months, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one. Coming out of Ernesto Perez-Carrillo’s shop, Four Kicks is a medium-strength smoke with a blend of spices and sweetness that amps up and down as you progress along the 5.6-inch frame. Each one I’ve smoked performed almost flawlessly: The burn was even, the smoke thick and rich, and the draw smooth.

If there’s one thing of which these three cigars have convinced me, it’s that a look to the past can provide a great addition to the present.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Cigars and Memorial Day

28 May 2018

[Editor’s Note: Today, for Memorial Day, we are republishing the following commentary written in 2008.]

With today’s celebration of Memorial Day to honor those who died in our nation’s service, I have a proposal: As cigar smokers, let’s extend the recognition of service to a week-long effort to provide cigars for the troops overseas, particularly those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you win cigars this week, donate them. If you’re planning to send a bomb to a friend or cigar board acquaintance, give the cigars to service men and women instead. If you receive a bomb, pass it along to the men and women in uniform who can’t go out and buy cigars but would truly enjoy the opportunity to smoke one. Stop by a local B&M to see what sort of operation it has for sending cigars to the troops (many shops do) and make a contribution. Check the programs several manufacturers have to give cigars to the troops when you make a purchase.

Choose whatever way you’d like to contribute. Just think how great it would be if everyone who reads this made just a small contribution and got a friend or two to do the same.

I first wrote about making cigar contributions back in November. Then, as now, I said such generosity has nothing to do with support or opposition for the war in Iraq or any governmental policy. It’s simply a good and decent thing to do for the cigar-loving men and women in uniform.

So, make this Memorial Day one to remember – for you and for our heroes overseas. Cigars, after all, are among the most requested items by the troops, and they have earned a well-deserved break.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: The New Fuente Nicaraguan Cigar Factory is a Big Deal

23 May 2018

When it comes to classic, old-school cigars, few brands come to mind more than Arturo Fuente. In an era of so many brands bringing new cigars to market constantly, Fuente has never given in to that pressure of the new release treadmill, or the need to chase trends. All of which makes their recent announcement particularly noteworthy.

Yes, Fuente had a presence in Nicaragua in the 1970s prior to the Sandinista revolution that wiped out many international investors. But now it is back in a big way. Using land the Fuentes have used to grow Nicaraguan tobacco for a while, the Domincan cigar giant announced recently it is building a new cigar factory in the heart of Estelí with the name “Gran Fabrica de Tabacos La Bella y La Bestia.”

I, for one, am very excited to see what the new Nicaraguan factory can create. Fuente makes cigars that stack up well at every price point, from the bargain bin mixed-filler Curly Head to the ultra-premium limited edition Opus X releases. Fundamentally, though, they’ve always been characterized by Dominican tobaccos, especially fillers.

The prospect of an abundance of Nicaraguan tobacco in new Fuente blends sounds good to me. That Fuente brought in Felix Mesa of El Galan Cigars (maker of the Doña Nieves) to run the Nicaraguan operations is especially promising.

The announcement is also a sign of the emergence of Nicaraguan cigars.

Not that long ago, Nicaragua was third among countries when it came to importing handmade cigars into the United States, behind Honduras and far behind the Dominican Republic. Today, for the second straight year, Nicaragua has edged out the Dominican Republic, with Honduras a distant third.

Put simply: If you were starting a new cigar company today, the most obvious place to build your factory would be Nicaragua. Yes, labor costs that are lower than the Dominican Republic. But the biggest reason would be the access to Nicaraguan tobaccos.

In many ways, Fuente’s announcement is the culmination of Nicaragua’s ascendance. In short, it’s a big deal, and a sign of the where the U.S. cigar market is now.

Patrick S

photo credit: Fuente

Commentary: Time for a Little Cigar Love

14 May 2018

We seem to be living in an age of nearly constant complaint. Dissatisfied with a company? Rip ’em on Yelp. Unhappy with any political situation? Tune in to your favorite cable news channel and watch your adversaries get roasted. Angry with someone? Blast him or her in a Twitter takedown.

Well, I’m here to go in the other direction. Let’s raise a glass to cigar manufacturers and toast the quality of their work. I think the caliber of cigar-making may be the highest it’s been in a long, long time. It’s certainly seems to me to be the best since I began regularly smoking cigars more than 15 years ago.

Back then, it was not all that uncommon to run across a plugged stick. Or one that burned terribly unevenly. Or one that wouldn’t really burn at all. Other problems included things like finding a thick stem rolled in with the filler leaves or a bunch so loose the burn became both ridiculously rapid and disgustingly hot.

Now, frankly, I can’t recall the last time I had a cigar that didn’t perform at least adequately.

Of course, this is just my opinion, based on my experiences. I do smoke a lot of different cigars because of StogieGuys.com, though I have to admit my selections rarely include really cheap smokes, bundles, or bargain-basement house brands.

But even when I do try one of those, I usually find the draw and burn quite acceptable. Case in point was a recent house blend I tried from one of the major mail-order operations.

I thought it was awful. So bad, in fact, that I only smoked about a third before tossing it aside. That was because I didn’t like the flavor, the harshness, and the finish, not because its combustion properties weren’t up to snuff.

There are probably a lot of reasons for the wide-ranging improvements, and those in the trade would obviously be better able to elucidate them than me. But I can say that, to me, it is certainly a positive sign that the industry continues on an upward path.

All in all, a great reason to celebrate with a great cigar.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys