How the FDA will snuff out innovation in cigars and e-cigs

I awoke yesterday morning to the news I’ve been dreading for years: The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products announced that it will extend its authority over cigarettes to all tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes. When I last covered this topic, the FDA was considering a proposal (“Option 2”) to exempt premium cigars from some of the agency’s more onerous regulations. I was optimistic that the agency might take this path, allowing it to concentrate resources where they might do more good and avoiding conflict with politically vocal cigar smokers. Unfortunately, as I write at Reason, that optimism was misplaced:

As of yesterday, Option 2 is dead. And so, perhaps, is innovation in the cigar business.

Cigars that were on the market in 2007 will be allowed to remain for sale, but any cigars introduced since then will have to endure the same sort of regulatory hassles as Hestia tobacco. If they can’t prove they’re substantially equivalent to existing products—not just in their composition or their effects on smokers, but in their essentially unknowable potential health impacts on the population as a whole—then they will be ordered off the market.

It’s hard to predict what those applications will cost, but the most likely outcome is that the market for cigars will soon become a lot less diverse and a lot more boring. (Cuban cigars, which by definition were not legally on the US market in 2007, will obviously not be grandfathered in.)

Read the rest here.

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Break out the cigars? Not yet.

[Update 12/21/14: An expanded, more detailed version of this post is now up at Reason.]

Today’s announcement of more normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba is welcome news for many reasons, but the one that seems to spring to mind for many is that Cuba’s most famous export, cigars, may finally become legally available in the United States. If only it were that simple. Here are three obstacles to getting Cuban tobacco into the US.

1. The embargo is still in place.

The new rules allow American travelers to return with up $400 of Cuban goods, of which only $100 worth can be alcohol or tobacco for personal use. This is still a long way from allowing commercial import. As before, any significant trade in Cuban cigars will be on the black market.

2. Trademark battles are going to be complicated.

The United States is the world’s largest market for premium cigars and our embargo with Cuba has essentially divided the global market in two: us and everybody else. Our embargo has created dueling trademarks for cigars. Cuban brands such as Cohiba, Partagas, Hoya de Monterey, Bolivar, and Punch are sold around the world. The United States does not recognize the Cuban trademarks, so cigars of non-Cuban origin with identical brand names are sold here. A legal dispute over the American and Cuban claims on the Cohiba trademark has dragged on since 1997 and still has not been resolved.

So even if the embargo is lifted entirely, the transition to allowing Cuban cigars won’t be a smooth one. Many of the Cuban cigars one can currently buy abroad would violate trademarks if imported to the US. Companies will have to fight this out in court or come to mutually beneficial agreements. Other likely outcomes are that Cuban products will be marketed under different names in the US or that non-Cuban companies will start using exported Cuban tobacco in their products. In any case, buying that Cuban Partagas Lusitania I enjoyed so much won’t be as simple as stopping into the nearest cigar store, at least in the short term.

3. The FDA could ruin everything.

The FDA has already announced that it intends to begin regulating cigars and outlined two approaches to doing this. The agency’s so-called “Option 2” would create an exemption for premium cigars, allowing them to be sold under less scrutiny than cigarettes and other tobacco products. The proposed standards for this exemption are problematic (see my Daily Beast article for details), but they would leave the door open for eventual Cuban imports.

The FDA’s Option 1, however, would be very bad news for Cuban cigars. Option 1 treats cigars just like cigarettes. Under the Tobacco Control Act, all tobacco products introduced to the United States after February 15, 2007, must receive explicit approval by the FDA. Getting approval is virtually impossible. As of my last coverage of the topic, only two new cigarettes had ever made it through the process, while thousands of product applications continue to languish in bureaucratic limbo. (See my articles in The Atlantic and Reason).

There were a lot of cigars legally on the market in 2007, but obviously none of them were Cuban. We don’t know yet know which option the FDA will choose, but Option 1 would have a disastrous impact on innovation in the cigar market. All Cuban imports and any new Cuban blends would have to somehow get past FDA regulators, whose record on cigarettes is terrible. The trade embargo could be lifted in the near future, just in time to have a new, de facto embargo imposed by bureaucrats at the FDA.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for something like Option 2, but given political opposition to removing the embargo, complicated battles over trademarks, and byzantine regulations imposed by the FDA, I suspect that I’ll be slipping Cubans into my luggage on trips abroad for many years to come.

[Photo courtesy of Alex Brown on Flickr.]

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Comment on the FDA’s cigar regulations

If you’ve been following my writing on the subject, you know that FDA regulation has the potential to devastate the market for cigars, pipes, and e-cigarettes. Tomorrow is the final day to submit public comments on the agency’s proposal to extend their authority to these products. Comments can be submitted here. Helpful suggestions for commenting can be found here from the site Halfwheel. My own comment, limited to cigars, is below.

Comments submitted for FDA regulations regarding premium cigars, Docket No. FDA-2014-N-0189:

As an avid, though only occasional consumer of premium cigars, I have been following closely the FDA’s regulation of tobacco products. The Tobacco Control Act empowered the FDA to review all new tobacco products before they come to market, with the aim of ensuring that these products are, at minimum, no more harmful to the health of society as a whole than the products already being sold in 2007. While this is arguably a laudable goal, in practice the implementation of pre-market review has been hampered by infeasible standards that render the market for tobacco less competitive without corresponding benefits to public health.

Though this consequence is unintended, it was not unforeseen. Testifying to Congress in 2007, then commissioner of the FDA Andrew C. von Eschenbach predicted that the law would not allow enough sufficient time for the agency to develop science-based rules regarding tobacco and would “unduly and unfairly raise the public’s expectations about what the Agency could accomplish.”

The agency’s record so far has shown that Eschenbach was correct. Since taking over regulation of cigarettes, the FDA has received nearly 4,000 applications for substantial equivalence. Only a tiny percentage of these have been approved, and these have mostly involved either very basic products (i.e. rolling papers) or very minor changes to existing products (i.e. substituting one type of cigarette paper for another). The vast majority of applications remain stuck in regulatory limbo.

The experience of companies trying to bring new products to market suggests that doing so is nearly impossible. Lorillard, one of the largest tobacco companies, was able to do so only after extensive delays going well beyond the 90 or 180 day deadlines implied by the Tobacco Control Act. The smaller startup Hestia has found itself mired in insurmountable bureaucracy. Documents provided by Hestia show that more than two years into the review of its substantial equivalence application, the FDA has not even begun to examine the physical characteristics of its cigarettes, focusing instead on marketing materials relating to identification of the predicate product. These details are irrelevant to the health impact of Hestia’s cigarettes and call into question the scientific basis of pre-market review. (Since pending applications are not made public, the experience of the vast majority of applicants remains unknown.)

The unintended consequence of this lengthy review process has been to freeze the market for cigarettes as it was in 2009, protecting the brands that dominated then from competition. The health benefits of restricting the entrance of competitors are unclear, especially when reviews do not reach the stage of evaluating the actual physical characteristics of new products.

Given that the market for premium cigars is much more dynamic than the market for cigarettes, with potentially thousands of new products being introduced each year, applying the FDA’s current rules and procedures to cigars would be devastating both to producers and to cigar smokers who value variety. It would also overwhelm the agency with applications, assuming producers bother attempting to navigate the review process.

This raises the question of how the FDA can regulate cigars without unduly burdening manufacturers. One possibility is to simply not apply the deeming regulation to cigars. This is my preferred course of action, though it is obviously unlikely that the FDA will accept it.

A second option is that proposed by the agency to exempt premium cigars from many of the regulations that apply to cigarettes (“Option 2” in the FDA’s proposal). This requires the creation of a legal distinction between premium and non-premium cigars. The agency’s proposal suggests eight factors that would distinguish premium cigars. They would be wrapped in whole tobacco leaf, contain 100% leaf tobacco binder and primarily long filler tobacco, be made by hand, lack any filter or mouthpiece, have no characterizing flavor other than tobacco, weigh no more than six pounds per 1,000 units, and retail for no less than $10 per cigar.

This definition shares many similarities with that in proposed legislation to exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation. The most glaring difference is the retail price requirement, which would set an effective price floor of $10 for all new cigars. This would be a very large price increase for consumers; one industry analysis finds that only about 15% of premium cigars currently sell for $10 or more.

The price of a cigar obviously has nothing to do with its objective characteristics that could affect a smoker’s health. A $5 cigar is no less or no more healthy than a $25 cigar. A $10 price floor would rightly be seen as politically expedient rather than scientifically justified, a means of keeping wealthy cigar smokers happy.

Another likely consequence of instituting a $10 price floor would be to incentivize black market sales. If all new premium cigars in the United States are required to retail for at least $10, consumers will be attracted to the greater variety and lower prices of cigars sold abroad (including those from Cuba, which are already illegal in the United States). Internet sales and in-person smuggling of foreign cigars would certainly increase. These black market cigars would not be regulated by the FDA at all, undermining the goals of regulation.

Nonetheless, the agency may conclude that some price floor is necessary to separate premium cigars from the cheap that allegedly draw in youth smokers. In that case, a compromise implementing a much lower price floor would better reflect the reality of the market.

A second objection to the proposed definition is the ban on all characterizing flavors other than tobacco. It is unclear what this would entail. Some flavors in cigars arise from ageing them in various woods. Many flavors such as whiskey or rum are not the kind one thinks of as being aimed at teenagers and are marketed to adults. A blanket ban on all flavors would be overly broad. Instead, the agency should work with the industry to identify types of flavoring that are of particular concern and evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.

A third objection is to the requirement that all premium cigars be produced entirely by hand. This also is unrelated to the health impact of cigars and would advantage producers in places with low labor costs. It would likely end some cigar production in the United States, which is often assisted by machine. This, too, is an area in which the agency could consult with the industry to refine its definition of premium cigars.

Finally, I would like to suggest broader changes to the way the FDA handles substantial equivalence applications. In current practice, applicants must identify a specific predicate product and provide detailed empirical analysis showing that their proposed new product is substantially identical to it, raising no new questions of public health. This is unduly burdensome on new producers and unfairly advantages existing players, who possess information about their own products and the funding to analyze them. Even when proposed new products raise no new questions of health, applicants may not have access to information about predicate products that would allow them to reach the empirical stage of FDA review. For example, applicants are expected to provide documents such as bills of lading from more than a decade ago to prove that their selected predicate product was marketed in 2007. If the owner of the predicate product is a potential competitor, they obviously have no incentive to assist in the provision of such materials.

To make the substantial equivalence application process more equitable, the agency should establish objective guidelines for new products that would allow them to be considered substantially equivalent to products already on the market. Current applicants do not know how much variation from predicate products is acceptable and often cannot access information about predicate products in the first place. Clear guidelines established by the FDA would give smaller producers a chance at navigating the process without sacrificing public health. The current substantial equivalence pathway would also remain open to those who prefer it.

Regardless of whether the substantial equivalence pathway is streamlined, I hope that the FDA will adopt some variation of Option 2, exempting premium cigars from most of the requirements of the Tobacco Control Act. The market for premium cigars is akin to those for craft beer, wine, or coffee, defined by skilled producers and specific origins of product, and completely unlike the relatively commodified market for cigarettes. It is incompatible with the expensive and time-consuming review currently required of new tobacco products. And as the FDA itself has noted in its proposal, requiring such review would likely accomplish little for public health, given that premium cigars are consumed and marketed to adults and that their use is less likely to lead to addiction. Existing research also suggests that moderate use of cigars is much less harmful to health than use of cigarettes.

The differences in the impact on population-level public health among individual cigars would be so small as to be impossible to ascertain. Given that the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has limited resources, its employees’ time can be put to much better use than the review of countless substantial equivalence applications for premium cigars.

– Jacob Grier
Portland, Oregon
August 7, 2014

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Cigars at The Daily Beast

My first contribution to The Daily Beast explains what’s at stake in the proposed FDA cigar regulations:

Ever since the FDA was given authority over cigarettes in 2009, cigar makers have been pushing a bill in Congress to keep stogies out of the agency’s purview. That an industry would try to protect itself from FDA regulation is not surprising. That the FDA might agree with them is. And given the agency’s record on cigarettes, keeping its hands off of premium cigars is the right idea.

Read the whole thing here.

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What proposed FDA regulations mean for e-cigarettes and cigars

I had a relaxing morning planned until the FDA announced its proposed regulations extending its authority to more tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars. Predictably most of the press is focusing on the former, but the proposals over cigars are also very interesting. The long PDF detailing the proposal is here. Since you probably don’t want to read that, read this post instead.

First, a little background on how the existing law works with regard to cigarettes. The most important power that the Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA was pre-market review. Before releasing a new cigarette, producers must now get explicit approval from the FDA. This created three classes of products:

1. Products that were already on the market as of February 2007 are grandfathered in and allowed to be sold without review, although the FDA could hypothetically order them off the market.

2. Products introduced between February 2007 and March 2011 are allowed on the market while under provisional review. Producers have had to submit applications, but they are allowed to continue selling while the FDA reviews them.

3. Since March 2011, all new products must receive FDA approval before being sold.

This has resulted in a freeze of the cigarette market since 2011. In the three years since then, only two new cigarettes have been approved for sale. The anti-competitive effect this has had on the cigarette market has been my primary criticism of the FDA’s handling of tobacco. It has been reviewing applications for four years, currently has more than 150 employees working on reviews, has received approximately 4,000 applications, and has managed to rule on only 34 of them. For more detailed information on this, see my coverage in The Atlantic and Reason. (Keep in mind, too, that the Tobacco Control Act was fully backed and negotiated by Philip Morris. They knew what they were doing.)

It’s also helpful to know what the FDA is looking for in new product applications. The law establishes two routes to approval. One is for completely new products (premarket tobacco applications) and requires extremely burdensome amounts of data; this is basically uncharted territory at this point. The other is “substantial equivalence.” To get approval by this route, a new product must demonstrate that it is substantially equivalent to a predicate product that was already on the market as of February 2007 or has since been approved by the FDA. “Substantially equivalent” is defined to mean having the same characteristics (materials, ingredients, design, composition, heating source, or other features) or raising no new questions of health. (To see why this is a huge obstacle to new producers, see my articles above.)

It’s been known for a long time that the FDA planned to extend its authority beyond cigarettes. The biggest concern is how the agency’s sluggish review process will affect these new products, especially e-cigarettes and cigars. These are both dynamic sectors of the market and applying the same standards that the agency uses for relatively commodified cigarettes is extremely problematic.

Impact on e-cigarettes: As mentioned above, substantial equivalence applications must specify a predicate product by which to compare the new product. That predicate product must have been on the market by February 2007. You can see the problem here. The market for e-cigarettes barely existed then. Thus the review process as it exists now is essentially a death sentence for e-cigarettes. As the agency notes in its proposal today, its hands are tied: “Because this date is written into the statute, we do not believe that we have the authority to amend it with respect to e-cigarettes or other products.”

Because of this, the FDA’s proposal gives e-cigarette companies two years after the date the rule goes into effect to submit a premarket tobacco application (PMTA). What happens after that is anybody’s guess. But unless the law changes, it looks like the substantial equivalence option is off the table for e-cigarettes and the variety of products that remain for sale will be extremely restricted. If any products successfully navigate the PMTA process, they will likely be those with lots of financial backing and perhaps the right connections.

Impact on cigars: The FDA’s proposals regarding cigars are intriguing. The agency offered two options. Option 1 is to treat cigars just like other tobacco products, subjecting them to all the same burdens of review. Option 2 is to carve out an exemption for premium cigars.

The first option, as I’ve been warning for a long time, would be disastrous. Hundreds of new cigars come out every year in distinct blends, shapes, and ages. Forcing them into a review process that has managed to approve only two cigarettes in four years would destroy the market as we know it. It would also require all cigars to be substantially equivalent to those already on the market in 2007, making the sector considerably more boring.

The fact that Option 2 is even being considered shows that the FDA is aware of this. Under this option, exemptions would be made for premium cigars. A cigar would be exempt if it:

(1) Is wrapped in whole tobacco leaf

(2) contains a 100 percent leaf tobacco binder

(3) contains primarily long filler tobacco

(4) is made by combining manually the wrapper, filler, and binder

(5) has no filter, tip, or non-tobacco mouthpiece and is capped by
hand

(6) has a retail price (after any discounts or coupons) of no less than $10 per cigar

(7) does not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco**

(8) weighs more than 6 pounds per 1000 units.

This is not a perfect definition, but it’s a start. The biggest drawback is that it would create a price floor of $10 per stick and this price would be adjusted (i.e. increased) every two years. It’s still possible to get pretty nice cigars for under $10, especially if one buys them a box at a time, so this would be a substantial imposition on cigar smokers. At this point, however, I’m just glad that the option to exempt premium cigars from the FDA’s pre-market approval process exists at all.

Impact on pipes: Pipe smokers, now few and far between, did not put a substantial lobbying effort into influencing the FDA’s new regulations. As a result, pipes get very little discussion in the proposal. However pipe tobacco will be subject to the full authority of the FDA and, if I am reading it correctly, pipes themselves would be subject to pre-market review as well. That seems potentially problematic for unique, handmade briar and meerschaum pipes. Pipe smokers, stock up now or prepare to order from overseas!

What’s next: There are seventy-five days to comment on the proposed regulations. The biggest fight will be over e-cigarettes, which are the hottest topic in the press. In my view it’s a mistake for the FDA to wade into this until it gets its review process under control or can provide a workable alternative to the substantial equivalence path. The upside is that it will take at least two years before it takes enforcement action, which will allow more studies on e-cigarette’s effectiveness as a harm reduction tool to be conducted.

(Note also that the law requires the FDA to examine health impacts on the population level, not on the individual user, so it could order e-cigarettes off the market even though they are unambiguously safer than cigarettes. Remember too that the head of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller, came directly to the job from consulting for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes nicotine replacement therapies that compete directly with e-cigs. Might pharmaceutical companies use the new restrictive review process to develop nicotine vapor devices of their own? I would not be at all surprised.)

Cigars have been almost completely off the radar of press and anti-smoking groups, but expect that to change as the debate over exempting them unfolds. Cigar smokers will have to continue keeping the pressure on lawmakers and the FDA to not destroy the industry. It will be important to show that premium cigars are primarily enjoyed by adults and have different health effects than cigarettes for the typical user. (For a summary of the latter, see here.)

Regardless of which option the FDA takes, I expect black market sales of cigars to increase. If it takes Option 1, the variety of cigars available in the United States will suffer greatly. If it takes Option 2, the price will rise to $10 a stogie.* Cuban cigars are pretty alluring already! If you enjoy the company of your local tobacconist, savor the next few years you have together. Their store may not be around much longer.

* Update to add that cigars could escape the price floor by winning FDA approval, but given the agency’s record so far I would not expect many to achieve that. Cigars that were on the market before 2007 could remain available at a lower price too.

** Additional note: I’ve asked the FDA several times whether ageing tobacco in cedar wood, a traditional practice for many cigars, would run afoul of the rule against characterizing flavors. They have not been willing to clarify this.

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Ron Zacapa, good cigars, and Portland summer

Scotch and cigars are a classic pairing, but lately I’ve been turning more and more toward rum as my spirit of choice when enjoying a cigar. One of my favorite rums for smoking is the incredibly rich Ron Zacapa Centenario, a Guatemalan rum distilled from sugar cane “honey” and aged for 23 years via the solera method. In short, this means that rum lost to evaporation one year is replaced with rum from the next, meaning that each barrel contains a blend of rums from each year. The rum is smooth, sweet, and very cooling, which can be an agreeable feature when having a cigar. For people who haven’t paired rum and cigars before, Zacapa is an eye-opening experience.

On Tuesday, July 13, my friend Ed Ryan from the Portland Cigar Club and I putting together an event at Alu Wine Bar and Lounge to bring together Ron Zacapa and cigars on the Alu patio. Ed’s bringing in two cigars, the Honduras Caribbean Honduran Puro Maduro and the Kinky Friedman Kinkycristo, which is a blend of Honduran & Nicaraguan tobaccos wrapped in a Costa Rican binder and a Honduran wrapper. These will be matched with Ron Zacapa served neat and in two cocktails. This is a fantastic deal, but space is limited, so buy your ticket on PayPal to reserve your seat.

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Sticking it to the stogies

Following the lead of New York’s David Paterson, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has proposed new taxes on tobacco, candy, and soft drinks. Cigars may be hit especially hard:

It would also increase taxes on smokeless tobacco and cigars, generating $15 million for the state. (Administration officials said a $2 cigar that now costs $2.76 would jump to $4.46.)

As cigarette taxes hit their maximum and states lose revenue to SCHIP, they’re going to turn to other forms of tobacco. This will leave cigars especially vulnerable. They can’t be smoked quickly like cigarettes, making them much harder to consume under smoking bans. Nor do they enjoy the cartel protections of the Master Settlement Agreement.

Note also that Boston is scheduled to force its six remaining cigar bars out of business.

[Via the Stogie Guys.]

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New cigar lounge coming to Alexandria

The Stogie Guys have the scoop on a private cigar club opening soon in Alexandria, VA, in the wake of the state’s smoking ban:

[…] CXIII Rex will have all the amenities of traditional cigar lounges, including a well-stocked walk-in humidor, a selection of top libations and small-batch wines, ample seating, wireless internet, private humidor lockers, and the like. But this club, slated to open in late March, will also feature more luxurious accommodations. Included will be a state-of-the-art air ventilation system, an access-only elevator, an all-female wait staff, and a private cigar blend crafted by none other than Rocky Patel. […]

Individual memberships, as you might expect from a club of this caliber, are not inexpensive. The cost is $5,000 to join CXIII Rex and $100 each month thereafter. Franco and Noe tell me that 200 slots are available, with 160 already claimed for. If, like me, this is above your price range, or if you reside outside the Washington metro area, you still have to appreciate the high attention to detail and passion that’s going in to creating a premier cigar lounge. I haven’t seen anything like it before.

Some of this sounds great, some of it a little gauche. (Is touting an all-female wait staff really necessary? It doesn’t exactly challenge the stereotype of the rich, male, self-important cigar smoker.) But what’s significant is that this business can exist at all. The Virginia smoking ban, as misguided as it is, at least allows for a market response. Dedicated lounges where smokers can congregate without offending others are free to open. This is in stark contrast to states like Oregon where the right to allow smoking in one’s bar is limited only to the favored few who happened to do so when a ban was passed.

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Bringing smoky back

One of the things I miss most about Virginia is cigar sessions with good friends. Whether it was in front of Murky Coffee in the summer, in the back room of EatBar in the winter, or out on my balcony after a night of cocktails, it was always a welcome change of pace from the busy life in DC. For a variety of reasons it’s much harder to enjoy that hobby here in Portland.

To change that, Ron Dollete of PDXplate and I are hosting a cigar night this Monday at El Gaucho, one of the few Portland bars that still has a smoking room. We’re hoping to make it a monthly thing. Our group so far is mostly bartenders, but anyone who likes stogies and spirits is welcome to join. Details are on the event’s Facebook page.

(Our wise rulers in Salem have decreed that only cigars shall be set alight in bars, so leave your cigarettes and pipes at home.)

Previously:
Last night of smoking at the Horse Brass

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Smoke your cloves if you got ’em

The AP reports on a troubling new trend:

The nation’s top distributor of clove cigarettes is offering fans a new way to get their fix after the spice-flavored cigarettes are banned at the end of this month—cigars.

The new filtered cigars—close to the size of a cigarette and flavored with clove, vanilla and cherry—allow Kretek International Inc., which imports Djarum-brand tobacco products from Indonesia, to avoid new federal laws banning flavored cigarettes other than menthol.

The ban on flavored cigarettes, which critics say appeal to teenagers, doesn’t include cigars.

The difference? Cigarettes are wrapped in thin paper, cigars in tobacco leaves. While the cigars also are made with a different kind of tobacco, the taste is similar. The cigars come 12 to a pack, rather than 20 for cigarettes, but cost nearly half as much.

Why is this troubling? Not because people will continue smoking killer cloves. Not even because cigar shops may now be filled with their powerful aroma. No, it’s troubling because it will attract the government’s attention to cigars:

Whether the cigars are truly different or just an attempt to circumvent the ban by making superficial changes is in the hands of the FDA, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“The key is the legislation gives the FDA the authority to respond to these types of frankly totally irresponsible actions,” Mr. Myers said.

Mr. Myers joined executives from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Amercian Legacy Foundation late last month urging the FDA to take a closer look at the issue.

Regulation of cigars is currently fairly light, allowing for the development of new brands and competition among them. And as an essentially pure agricultural product — they’re just rolls of cured leaves — that’s the way things ought to be. If the FDA or Congress starts turning its attention to cigars there’s no telling what harm they could to the industry.

I wrote about the pseudoscientific absurdity of banning flavored tobacco here.

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SCHIP tax avoision

Patrick and Patrick of the Stogie Guys are reporting live this weekend from the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association Trade Show in New Orleans. (Man, I’m missing all the fun events in New Orleans this summer!) My favorite bit so far is this clever subterfuge to get around the new SCHIP tax:

In our preview on Thursday we mentioned Arganese was creating a two-in-one cigar designed to minimize the SCHIP tax. Below is a photo of the cigar, called “S-This.” What might not be clear from the photo is the cigar is really two smokes, connected at their heads with an extra bit of wrapper that can easily be removed by the smoker. So while for tax purposes the consumer is buying five cigars, in reality they get ten smokes. Sneaky.

Joining two stogies and letting the consumer cut them apart is a great idea. I don’t know how these smoke, but I’d buy some just to stick it to the man.

Previously:
Will SCHIP sink the states?
SCHIP and “the” tobacco tax
Children, say “thank you” for smoking

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Cigar industry victim of the nanny state

USA Today has a depressing piece up on the state of the cigar industry. The short version is that the economic downturn, sudden tax hikes, and smoking bans are killing the industry. I worry about the long-term effects anti-smoking laws will have on premium tobacco. Making and smoking it could become a lost art, creating a cascade of job losses in the US and especially in growing countries. Cigar smoking will become exceedingly rare; furtive smoke breaks for mass-market cigarettes will continue just fine. [Via Stogie Guys.]

As an example of what we’re up against, here’s what the city council in Del Mar is up to:

Del Mar officials took a step this week toward banning smoking on city sidewalks and restaurant patios after diners complained about smoke ruining their meals at newly installed outdoor cafes.

The council will hold a public hearing before voting on the ban, but council members Monday bluntly expressed their distaste for smoking.

“You shouldn’t be exposed to a health hazard while walking down the streets of Del Mar,” said Councilman Don Mosier.

Mayor Crystal Crawford said she remains open to hearing from the public but noted, “This is a council of non-smokers.” […]

Staff members also will research the idea of creating a city licensing program to regulate tobacco retailers.

There was discussion about banning cigarette vending machines, but no one remembered seeing such machines in Del Mar.

What kind of person complains to the city council about a bad experience at a restaurant? If one’s Caesar salad isn’t up to par, the usual remedy isn’t asking the local rulers to step in and fix it. You talk to the manager, write a bad review on Yelp, or take your business elsewhere. Smoke exposure shouldn’t be any different. The fact that non-smokers are turning to the city council to get their way is just another example of how anti-smoking hysteria has poisoned civil society.

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The elitism of exemptions

It’s been a busy week for tobacco policy. One of the developments is senate approval of an exemption for cigar bars in New Hampshire:

The New Hampshire Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would grant cigar bars permission to sell liquor if approved by the House.

Though the bill exempts cigar bars from the state’s two-year-old ban on smoking in public bars and restaurants, lawmakers added restrictions to the bill before it passed in a 21-9 vote.

Businesses will be required to: not serve food of any kind, show proof that 60 percent of gross revenue is derived from cigars or related products, maintain a humidor on the premises, and prohibit cigarette smoking. Also, all job applicants must be warned in writing about the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure.

This should be good news. Exemptions for cigar bars aren’t uncommon and there’s no reason New Hampshire shouldn’t have one too. And yet the prohibition on cigarette smoking bothers me. What is the justification for letting cigar smokers have places to enjoy their hobby indoors while denying the same right to cigarette smokers? There isn’t one. Cigar smokers just happen to have the resources to protest. Once their needs are met, who’s going to stand up for people who choose other forms of tobacco?

That’s exactly the question faced in North Carolina this week, which has joined the shameful ranks of states with smoking bans. Cigar bars can qualify for exemptions. Hookah bars, on the other hand… :

For the past several months, fliers have hung from the walls of Adam Bliss’s local hookah bar. They asked customers to call senators and lobby for an amendment to an anti-smoking bill that would keep Hookah Bliss open.

Bliss called the senators himself twice a day. He contacted hookah bars across the state to fight for an amendment. But after much effort, his lobby has failed.

The bill, which was ratified May 13 by the N.C. General Assembly, will prohibit smoking in all restaurants and bars. It was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Bev Perdue, causing Bliss to have to close his doors in January since he serves both alcohol and tobacco products. […]

Legislation does allow for some tobacco-based businesses to stay open.

The new law permits cigar bars and private clubs to continue operating. However, Bliss said it would not be possible to change his business to fit under either of these categories.

A cigar bar is defined to make more than 25 percent of its profits from cigars, which Bliss does not serve. A private club is defined as a country club or organization linked with a nonprofit organization which does not provide food or lodging to a person who is not a member or member’s guest.

“This bill has basically protected the playground of the rich and elite,” he said, noting his confusion about why an amendment would be passed for a cigar bar but not a hookah bar. “They are allowing the exact same types of businesses to operate.”

Bliss is absolutely right. There’s no reason that he should be shut down while a cigar bar next door could remain open. We are all in this together. Even if we only enjoy cigars, we need to stand up for the rights of cigarette, hookah, and pipe smokers. Or even we don’t smoke at all, we shouldn’t compromise the right of consenting adults to assemble and consume a legal substance.

New Hampshire should pass this cigar bill, but it shouldn’t stop there. The same exemption requirements should apply to the sale of any tobacco product, not only those consumed by the upper class.

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The cutting edge of tobacco control…

… is apparently banning smoking out of doors, on golf courses, where people intentionally stay far away from one another:

Patrick Reynolds of the Foundation for a Smokefree America acknowledged that moving the anti-smoking fight from indoors to outdoors was “cutting edge.”

“But these are in fact reasonable laws,” Reynolds, grandson of tobacco pioneer R.J. Reynolds, said. “Second-hand smoke causes lung cancer.”

If that logic is hard to follow, that’s why it’s “cutting edge.”

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Smoking in Portland

It ain’t easy, but it is possible. Tomorrow Broadway Cigar is hosting its grand opening celebration, featuring cigar rolling demos, free beer (of the root variety), barbecue, a beer and spirits tasting, and raffles. I got to preview the space a few months ago and it’s very nice: flat screen TVs, free wi-fi, and big, comfy leather chairs. Check their site for details.

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Maryland may snuff out its smoke shops

Maryland is considering a bill to raise its cigarette tax from $2 to $2.75 per pack, but legislators are worried that the price increase will cause teenagers to start smoking cigars instead. Luckily they’ve come up with an easy solution to the problem: Raise taxes on cigars too! Under the proposal, the tax on cigars will jump from 15% of the manufacturer’s price to an extremely punitive 90%. Combined with the statewide smoking ban, the new SCHIP taxes, and the recession, retailers are understandably fearing for their livelihoods. This could potentially defeat the revenue-raising purpose of the taxes. As a retailer friend of mine once said, “90% of nothing is nothing.”

Though no politician could get away with saying it, I’m not convinced that teenage smokers switching from cigarettes to cigars is something to be discouraged (assuming they are going to continue smoking something). Cigars aren’t inhaled directly and are less habit-forming,* and they could become a rewarding hobby into adulthood. If I were the parent of a teenager I would much rather see him smoking a few cigars per week than taking constant cigarette breaks throughout the day.

This is not the first anti-cigar proposal to come out of Maryland recently. Maryland cities and counties have been banning sales of low-cost, individual cigars to keep them out of reach of the poor and of teens who might strip out the tobacco and replace it with an even more illicit leaf.

*Update: To clarify, by “non-habit forming” I’m referring to their general usage, not to their chemical properties.

[Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Stogie Guys.]

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Way to go, Long Beach!

And now for some good news: The Long Beach, CA city council passed its proposal to loosen the local smoking ban, granting official approval to the city’s 13 cigar lounges. Even this is far too much diversity for anti-tobacco activists:

Lung association spokesman Steven Gallegos disagreed, telling the Los Angeles Times: “This is a giant step backwards for public and employee health. This product kills almost half a million people a year. If this ordinance passes other cities throughout Los Angeles County will look at Long Beach and say, ‘If they did it, we can too. Public health be damned.'”

Just this once I’m going to hope he’s right.

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