Opinions Vary On Premium Cigar Regulation

As lawmakers introduce a bill opposing FDA regulation, the industry remains divided

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Nearly 200 lawmakers have come together to support a House bill that would block the FDA from regulating premium cigars. 2009’s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTC) granted the FDA the authority to regulate the sales of all tobacco products as part of a larger effort to reduce the youth smoking rate – and while the FDA has yet to take authority over cigars, a decision is expected to come this summer. Both premium cigar manufacturers and retailers are concerned such regulations could require health warnings on packaging (as is required for cigarettes), storing cigars in separate rooms accessible only to employees, or ban tobacco retailers from making sales over the phone or recommending products.


To prevent this from happening, Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) introduced a bill last year seeking to exempt premium cigars from government regulation, defining premium cigars as unfiltered products, wrapped in leaf tobacco, that weigh more than 6 pounds for every 1,000 cigars.

“We don’t want them to regulate premium cigars. We are the legislative branch and we determine that,” said George Cecala, a spokesman for Rep. Posey. “You have a number of people at the FDA who are bent at chipping away at people’s abilities to enjoy things.”

While the bill is co-sponsored by 199 Republicans and Democrats alike, not everyone is so unified about excluding premium cigars from government regulation.

In response to the bill, The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial in support of FDA regulation. Although the piece did admit that cigarettes are the bigger problem with youth smoking and traditionally, cigars do not attract this age group, it cited the appeal of “fruit and candy” flavored cigars and a study in Maryland that reported an increase in cigar smoking in teenagers as reasons for the FDA to take control. The editors of the Times believe “it would be a shame to see the hard-fought battle against cigarettes undermined by increased cigar use.”

Anti-smoking groups like The American Cancer Society and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids also oppose the bill, arguing that certain cigar manufacturers could use the legislation to avoid regulation.

Gregg Haifley, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, stated “we think it is not good public health policy to create an exemption for an entire category of tobacco products that cause cancer.”

While it’s expected that anti-smoking groups and some media outlets might oppose the bill, it might surprise many that tobacco giant Altria is also against the measure.

“Altria and its cigar company John Middleton are opposed to exempting any cigars from FDA regulation,” said a spokesman for the Richmond, Va.-based company. “We supported the passage of the FSPTCA establishing FDA regulation and think that it should be up to the FDA to decide, based on science and evidence, whether to assert jurisdiction over cigars.”

With or without Altria’s support, proponents of the bill will have to work quickly if they want to avoid regulation, as the FDA states it is “working as expeditiously as possible to issue the proposed rule.”