Skip to main content

Hands Off


The push is on to exempt premium cigars from federal regulations

In June 2009, the tobacco industry had what some may consider a bull's-eye placed squarely on its back by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in control of the darts.

In the three years since President Barack Obama signed the legislation giving the federal agency the power to regulate the tobacco industry, the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) has taken up several issues. The agency's hit list has mainly focused on cigarettes — flavored, menthol and "light" — but started to grow last summer when the CTP began reviewing dissolvable tobacco products. And most recently, cigars are coming into its view.

This April, the CTP issued a request for proposal (RFP) to fund an experimental study on the subjective, physiological and puff topography measures of little cigars. The purpose, according to the CTP, is to assess if flavored little cigars are more likely depicted as and consumed by tobacco users as cigarettes. While this study specifically looks at flavored little cigars, the premium cigar industry knows it is just a matter of time before it lands in the FDA's sights — and so, it is circling the wagons to cut possible regulations off at the pass.

Enter two proposed federal bills: H.R. 1639 and S. 1461. Both pieces of legislation share the title, "Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2011," and aim to "amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to clarify the [FDA's] jurisdiction over certain tobacco products, and to protect jobs and small businesses involved in the sale, manufacturing and distribution of traditional and premium cigars."

As of late August, the House bill had 219 co-sponsors and its Senate companion had 13, according to Bill Spann, CEO of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR). A petition urging federal lawmakers to support the bills is available on the association's website.

"We continue to work with all industry partners and trade associations to do everything we possibly can to protect the premium cigar [and] pipe tobacco industry from regulation," Spann told Convenience Store News.

Any regulations of premium cigars could have a crippling effect on the industry, which employs more than 85,000 U.S. workers and about a quarter of a million workers in Latin America.

"Even well-intentioned regulation needs to be carefully scrutinized so that it doesn't impact or hurt businesses, particularly small businesses," Spann noted. "In this economy, those are the ones hurting the most and those are the ones we represent the most."

Cigar maker Commonwealth-Altadis Inc. (CA) said the bills' prospects remain unclear at this point. However, the process of pushing the legislation through the halls of Congress has been beneficial in explaining to legislators and the FDA the impact that unwarranted regulations might have on the small retail tobacco shops that often sell premium cigars.

"Indeed, the focus of the legislative effort — the bills entitled the "Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Jobs Preservation Act" — is to protect the tens of thousands of U.S. jobs that rely on the premium cigar category, one that makes up only about one half of 1 percent of the overall tobacco industry," according to the company.

While the Florida-based cigar maker is still waiting to see if and when the FDA will publish proposed regulations, it looks forward to commenting on them and working with the agency.

"CA believes any regulations must be science-based and follow the mandate given to the FDA by the law. Among other things, this means not using a one size fits all approach to tobacco regulation, but rather evaluating unique products independently," the company told CSNews. "There is great variety within the cigar segment, with cigars coming in hundreds, if not thousands, of sizes and shapes. We believe the FDA should, and must, take these and other differences into account during the rule-making process. We have already made these points to the FDA and, again, look forward to engaging with the FDA on proposed regulations when they are published."

On more than one occasion over the past two years, the FDA has expressed its intent to regulate cigars. Aside from championing the proposed federal legislation, the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association is also working to educate all the stakeholders that premium cigars stand apart from the rest of the category. Specifically, premium cigars are celebratory in nature, not addictive, enjoyed by adults and enjoyed in moderation, Spann explained.

These differences are an important point given the rallying cry of many anti-tobacco groups that tobacco products too often fall into the hands of underage consumers.

"[Premium cigars] are not marketed to, afforded by or desired by underage youth," Spann emphasized. "Our members 100 percent support keeping our products out of the hands of underage youth. We don't want them to have them. End of story."

There are others down in the trenches on this issue, too. Cigar Rights of America has placed a call to action to help premium cigars gain an exemption from FDA regulations. The organization carries a link to the petition on its website and representatives from the group were reportedly slated to meet with FDA officials at the end of August.

Corona Cigar Co. has come up with a unique way to get the message across as well. The Lake Mary, Fla.-based company collaborated with the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. to produce a line of House Resolution by JC Newman cigars. According to Corona Cigar's website, "every box of House Resolution cigars sold helps support our efforts to make H.R. 1639 a law that will keep the FDA from coming between you and your beloved cigars."

For comments, please contact Melissa Kress, Associate Editor, at [email protected].

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds