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FDA Aims to Smoke Out Cigar-Makers

by Philip Swicegood Read Profile arrow_right_alt

One of the truly most objectionable aspects of this year’s presidential contest is that Hillary Clinton’s rampant lying and Donald Trump’s objectionable statements and behavior have almost entirely shut out news of legitimately bad things happening in Washington, DC, and state capitals around the country.

One of those things that has mostly gone unnoticed is a move by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to hammer those of us who enjoy cigars under the guise of powers conferred by some little-noticed legislation passed back in 2009.

That legislation—the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act—allows the FDA to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products. FDA is supposed to use this power to prevent minors from getting access to tobacco products, which kids surely do—albeit not really cigars, which is what FDA is targeting. Setting aside that cigars have a totally different appeal to cigarettes, and there’s not a ton of crossover between cigar and cigarette-smokers, as anyone who’s ever been to a cigar shop knows, it’s basically impossible for an underage person to buy hand-rolled cigars, anyway, as a matter of logistics and shop layouts.

But the FDA is pursuing its heavy-handed regulation of cigars anyway. What precisely are they doing, and what are the implications? According to cigar blog Half Wheel, “cigar prices are going up” and “a lot of cigars—not just limited editions—will go away.”

Here’s why, according to Half Wheel: “there are four main added costs associated with FDA regulation:

  • Testing
  • Administrative Costs
  • User Fees
  • Warning Labels/Packaging Changes.”

In short, cigar smokers are going to be funneling taxes to the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products—which, incidentally, entails shifting the tax burden away from cigarette smokers and onto those of us who enjoy cigars (one way in which this regulation is actually a big regulatory benefit to Big Tobacco companies that deal in cigarettes, and coincidentally dish out a lot of campaign contributions).

To make matters worse, in order for cigars not on the market as of February 15, 2007, to be sold, those cigars will have to have been extensively tested. Half Wheel projects that could add as much as $20,000 in costs to a given type of cigar.

An additional expense cigar-manufacturers will incur will be the cost of hiring lawyers to guide them through these regulatory hoops.

And then, we have the labeling costs—again, per Half Wheel, “Companies will be required to place warning labels on all boxes by Aug. 8, 2018. Two warning labels, covering at least 30 percent of two primary panels—presumably the top and front of the boxes—will be required. This will take added time to apply the warning labels, which costs money, as well as the price for printing the warning labels. Because most companies use a variety of different sizes boxes across the products they sell, companies will likely need to have the warning labels in multiple sizes for different boxes sizes, increasing the costs associated with warning labels. Furthermore, cigar companies must randomly distribute five different warning labels across each SKU and give FDA a written explanation of how they intend to do so.”

Don’t forget that for any cigar-maker that wants to fight all this, there will be additional legal and lobbying costs.

All of this will, of course, be passed on to cigar smokers—where cigar-makers choose to stay in the market at all— all to prevent kids from buying cigars, which they cannot do anyway.

Unsurprisingly, Congress isn’t exactly doing much about this, despite the fact that a good number of people in both parties actually support rolling back this regulation (and smoke cigars). Theoretically, this is something that could be dealt with in the CR, not just by free-standing legislation—but people like Mitch McConnell and other congressional leaders would have to ignore the money that crony lobbyist who have a reason to favor this regulation are funneling to campaign coffers, and do the right thing.

This is not necessarily a cigar issue or even a tobacco issue. This is simply a classic example of gross government regulatory overreach. Regardless of whether you smoke cigars or not, I hope you’ll join me in contacting your congressmen and senators to object to this unreasonable regulatory nonsense. Remind them that whether they are smoking a Padron 1926 in celebration on election night, or a conciliatory Opus X Lost City after a crushing defeat, regulatory policy like this should not be acceptable.


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