20 Apr 2016
If you read StogieGuys.com regularly, you’re aware of the danger the seemingly imminent FDA regulation of cigars poses. While we’re proud to have covered this issue in more depth and longer than any other media outlet, the FDA is hardly the only threat cigars face.
Taxes and smoking bans are two other prominent attacks on cigar rights, but even adding those doesn’t encompass the full scale of the multi-front attack on cigar freedom. To that end, here are three under-the-radar attacks on the freedom to smoke cigars.
Limitations on Shipping Cigars
Last year, FedEx announced they would no longer be allowing cigars to be shipped as of the beginning of 2016. The company cited the “complex regulatory environment” as part of the reason for its decision to cease shipments. Although consumers are unlikely to notice the change since FedEx had been used mostly by manufacturers and distributors to ship cigars to retailers, the change is part of a larger trend that is cutting off legal business from using the necessary tools of commerce.
The same “regulatory environment” that led FedEx to stop shipments is likely to spread with UPS being the next likely target. FedEx faced a massive lawsuit from the state of New York for shipping untaxed cigarettes into the state, even though the company has no way of knowing the contents of the millions of packages it transports every day. UPS is currently facing a similar lawsuit. We’ve heard UPS has attempted to refuse to open accounts with new cigar businesses. While so far these are isolated incidents, if the shipment of cigars were left solely to the hands of the United States Postal Service, it would drive up the cost of business, not to mention leave legal cigar shipments entirely in the hands of a federal bureaucracy influenced more by the whims of politics than the motivation to satisfy customer’s needs.
Restricting Cigar Business Access to Banking and Credit Services
Starting in 2013, the Department of Justice began an initiative called Operation Choke Point with the goal of cutting off financial services to “high-risk businesses” for fraud. But critics have said Choke Point has been used to target many legal businesses deemed undesirable by the current administration, which includes tobacco retailers.
Multiple cigar retailers have already been dropped by their credit card processors or banks, according to the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR). And a Department of Justice list, since taken down from its website, lists “tobacco sales” as one of the targeted businesses. Running a business without access to reputable banking and credit card services is impossible in today’s environment. Already, cigar retailers have had longstanding relationships severed, the effect of which is a hidden tax that drives up the cost of transactions involving completely legal cigar purchases.
Crackdown on Cigar Groups on Social Media
On Monday, multiple cigar groups on Facebook were shut down. The move was the result of sweeping action by Facebook that shuttered numerous private groups involving cigars, beer, whiskey, and other alcohol. Facebook is a private company and can allow or ban whatever it wants. But it isn’t a stretch to suspect something more is behind the move, especially considering there are any number of ugly and hateful things posted by users on the social media giant’s platform.
In many of those cigar and booze groups, sales and trades were taking place. Facebook’s terms of service note that activity involving tobacco and alcohol must be age-restricted and specific users are responsible for following all applicable laws. Even though surely many transactions were initiated in these groups that weren’t in full compliance with the law, the response wasn’t to ban specific users but to eliminate entire groups with thousands of users. Federal law generally protects internet companies from being held responsible for the postings of its users (otherwise Facebook, Twitter, or even any blog with a large number of comments could be sued out of existence). But likely either in anticipation of, or in direct response to, threats that it would be held responsible by authorities for any such activities, Facebook simply eliminated targeted groups.
photo credit: YouTube.com