An expensive, high-end cigar selected from one of the best boutique manufacturers. A small grape-flavored Swisher Sweet bought in a pack at a gas station for less than $1 each. Are they the same thing?
The premium cigar industry worries that the Food and Drug Administration might think so. Under a 2009 law (PL 111-31), the FDA has the power to regulate several tobacco products, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Since the law’s passage, the agency has set up its Center for Tobacco Products, issued several guidance documents and regulations and banned certain types of cigarettes.
But the agency may not be done, and that’s what has some cigar stakeholders on edge. Under the law, the FDA is allowed to expand its regulatory authority to other tobacco products, including cigars, if it decides they meet certain standards relating to the public health.
The industry is now waiting on a proposed rule from the agency that could make other tobacco products subject to the same regulations as cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco. The FDA plans to issue the rule by April.
“The law also permits FDA to deem other tobacco products to be subject to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act by regulation,” Lawrence Deyton, director of the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement. “FDA has announced its intent to issue a proposed rule for public comment that would deem products that meet the statutory definition of ‘tobacco product’ to be subject to FDA jurisdiction.”
The premium cigar industry is concerned that the agency will decide all cigars are subject to the law — and regulate the expensive, high-end ones the same way it does cheap drugstore cigars.
“Our industry’s concern is that they just decide that a cigar is a cigar. They’re going to have many problems,” said Bill Spann, CEO of the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.
Health advocates and some Democratic lawmakers are pushing to include cigars under the regulations, noting that studies show that more young people are smoking cigars as cigarette use declines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigar use among high school boys in 2011 was at 15.7 percent — close to cigarette use at 17.7 percent.
But Spann says that when underage smokers use cigars, they buy the cheap, small ones available for purchase in gas stations and drugstores — not high-quality, expensive cigars. The FDA should not group all the products together in one category in an effort to prevent their use by youth, he said.