Cigar Magazine Launches Campaign to Snuff Out FDA Rule

Cigar Aficionado, the lifestyle magazine known for putting stogie-sporting celebrities on its cover, has a message for the new Food and Drug Administration Commissioner: Hands off our sticks.

In a letter to FDA head Scott Gottlieb, the magazine’s editor and publisher called on the administration to exempt “handmade” cigars from the tighter tobacco regulations finalized by the Obama administration in May 2016.

Freshly rolled cigars

“In order to comply with the FDA's new restrictions, cigar companies are facing the prospect of enormous new costs—hundreds of thousands of dollars per company—that are onerous, burdensome and most of all unnecessary,” Marvin Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, said in the letter.

The rule broadens the regulation of tobacco products and would require cigar makers to file new product applications with the FDA for products introduced to the market after Feb. 15, 2007. Critics of the rule have characterized it as regulatory overreach, saying the language is meant for electronic cigarettes and places a costly financial burden on small cigar makers.

The magazine is pressing its readers to send their own letters to Gottlieb, who was sworn in May 11.

The 2009 Tobacco Control Act granted the FDA authority to regulate the tobacco industry. As the FDA crafted rules to implement oversight of tobacco products, it conducted a study to determine whether to exclude premium cigars from its oversight, ultimately concluding that there was no public health justification.

The issue has been long fought on Capitol Hill. In 2016, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) inserted language a House agriculture appropriations bill that would restrict the FDA from finalizing or implementing the rule unless it exempted “premium cigars.”

Health advocates were unsuccessful in removing the language and the committee approved the measure, but the spending bill never made it to the president’s desk. Congress ultimately passed a continuing resolution to fund the government that didn’t include limit the FDA rules.

Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) introduced a bill (H.R. 564) with similar language in January 2017.

But health groups, including the American College of Cardiology, the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Medical Association have been on the offensive as well, opposing restrictions to FDA oversight of cigars.

Heath advocates say the bill could exempt more than just expensive, hand-rolled cigars and could lift regulations for sweetened and flavored cigars attractive to young people.

“Tobacco manufacturers have a history of modifying their products to avoid public health protections or attain lower tax rates,” a consortium of health advocacy groups said in a February 2016 letter. “We are concerned that the number of cigars exempted by H.R. 564 and the policy rider included in the House FY 2017 agriculture appropriations bill would increase over time as cigar manufacturers modify their products or change their manufacturing processes to qualify for the exemption.”

H.R. 564 remains in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the panel hasn’t scheduled a hearing or markup for the bill.

The House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies hasn’t put out its fiscal year 2018 spending bill yet, but Aderholt, who sits on the subpanel, could push to include the cigar language again.