USA Today June 22, 2014
Cigar smokers, watch out: Column
by James Bovard
Does FDA really believe that only those who can afford ‘premiums’ should be exempt?
During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, Vice President Thomas Marshall declared, “What this country needs is a good 5 cent cigar.”
The Obama administration is striving to update that noble aspiration. The Food and Drug Administration recently proposed sweeping regulations that could make it far more difficult for Americans to purchase new cigars that cost less than $10.
The FDA unleashed a regulatory barrage against electronic cigarettes, hookahs, pipe tobacco and other tobacco products. But cigar smokers could suffer the worst from the new decrees.
The FDA proposes banning cigar sales to minors, free samples, almost all tobacco vending machines and limiting cigar ads. The biggest disruption would stem from compelling manufacturers to secure “premarket approval” before selling any cigars not sold before Feb. 15, 2007.
The agency is notorious for long delays in approving new drugs, and it would likely foot-drag even worse for products it despised. An FDA economic analysis estimated the new mandate could severely impact up to 77% of all cigars. The enormous costs for premarket approval could also minimize new tobacco products down the road.
Industry opposition has been a bit muted because the FDA indicated that it might exempt “premium cigars” from the new mandates. But the FDA is charging forward. The vast majority of cigars consumed in the U.S. are machine rolled. But the FDA suggests that any handmade cigar that costs less than $10 is not “premium.”
At first glance, the FDA’s definition sounds like a caricature invented by Occupy Wall Street activists. Most handmade cigars sell for much less than $10. Does the FDA believe that only people who pay exorbitant amounts for cigars should be allowed to spend their money as they please?
The FDA’s premium-cigar standard is like an auto-safety mandate that specifically exempts Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. Actually, almost all the cigars that the FDA would exempt are foreign-made.
Even if FDA exempts “premium” cigars, that concession will likely be revoked. The FDA declared in the Federal Register that “asserting our authority over these tobacco products will enable us to take further regulatory action in the future as appropriate.”
Cigar manufacturers are being tossed into a bureaucratic briar patch from which they will likely never escape. Some congressmen are already urging the FDA to ban all flavored cigars.
Heavy cigar smoking can boost a person’s risks of oral cancer, lung cancer and heart problems. Even so, the FDA has done little to calibrate the comparative risks of different tobacco products.
If the goal is to eliminate all tobacco use, it is naive to expect the FDA to concede that cigars are significantly less toxic than cigarettes. This would be like expecting prohibitionists to confess that low-alcohol beer is not as ruinous to humanity as rotgut whiskey or homemade moonshine.
It would be more honest for the Obama team to simply make smoking cheap cigars a federal crime. Especially at a time when marijuana is being legalized in numerous states, it makes no sense to hound cigar smokers as if they were domestic terrorists.
Author James Bovard always smokes cheap cigars when writing about the FDA.