if your favorite craft beer maker, winery, or distillery had to get FDA approval for each variation in its formulation before it was allowed to bring a new product to market - including small batches and limited seasonal releases? If they had to prove that the potential risks of the product were essentially that same as one of their existing products or else conduct a very costly scientific analysis? If the FDA tossed each new cigar application onto a pile that's currently backlogged by several years with 4,000 outstanding applications?
That's exactly what the FDA proposes in its quest - to impose the same regulations on cigars that are already in place for cigarettes. Those regulations have already brought new product introductions to a grinding halt in the cigarette category.
Since when is a hand crafted cigar anything like a cigarette - from how it's made to how it's enjoyed? It isn't, and they certainly shouldn't be approached in the same way from a regulatory standpoint. That's the position that cigar makers have been stressing for years in their efforts to fight back.
There is even more potential fallout if cigarette regulations are applied to cigars. Free samples of cigars, a cornerstone of in-store events by premium cigar makers, would be banned. Flavored and infused cigars of any kind would be banned. User fees could be applied, driving prices up. Burdensome administrative requirements would dump red tape on companies, from corporate registration to the filing of ingredient disclosure reports. Never even mind the cultural affects of the labeling requirements which would destroy the artistic tradition of cigar packaging art.
The net effect would be crippling for all but the largest of cigar makers, likely driving many boutique companies right off the map. For those that remained, and for cigar loving consumers and the legion of small businesses that retail them, the premium cigar universe as we know it would be radically altered. And all for the worse.
The FDA has offered an alternate plan that would exempt premium cigars from these regulations, but only by defining a premium cigar as one that costs at least $10. It's an insane proposition since the vast majority currently sell in the $5 to $10 range. By the estimates of at least one boutique cigar maker, Gary Griffith of Emilio Cigars, about 85 percent of the premium cigars he distributes through his various businesses retail under that proposed $10 threshold. This alternative option simply doesn't fit the reality of the cigar marketplace.
What can you do?
The FDA issued its proposed deeming regulations on tobacco products on April 24. This started the countdown clock on a 75-day public comment period. The agency is tasked to consider each and every comment submitted before issuing its final rules. At the very least, a landslide of feedback would take time to process. At best, vehement public comment could alter the final rules. Anyone who has any involvement with cigars - consumers or businesses - should take the time to respond to the FDA's proposal, which can be done at www.regulations.gov, providing you manage to successfully navigate the tangle of pages.
An even better place to start, though, is at the website for Cigar Rights of America (CRA) at www.cigarrights.org, even if you aren't already member of this crucial grass roots lobbying group. And really, why wouldn't you be? It's a mere $35 a year and they dedicate 100 percent of their energy to defending your freedom to enjoy premium cigars.
First, CRA provides a direct link to the FDA's feedback submission form.
Second, they provide fantastic talking points if you aren't exactly sure about the key points you want to make.
Third, they also have a link to a petition concerning the industry's other key effort in this matter: exempting premium cigars from FDA regulation entirely by an Act of Congress. Both H.R. 792 (currently supported by 156 legislators) and its companion bill S. 772 (supported by 16 legislators), would do just that. At press time, over 83,000 people have signed the petition - only a fraction of the U.S. adults who enjoy premium cigars. Let's grow that number significantly. The future of premium cigars is at stake.