A Senseless Ban
Posted: Oct 29, 2009 1:00pm ET
I’m still scratching my head over New York City’s move to ban flavored tobacco products, including flavored cigars and even pipe tobacco. It just doesn’t make sense. And even if you’re not a fan of flavored tobacco (and I’m not) you should still find the news disturbing.
The ban will go into effect in 119 days, but there will likely be a court challenge from makers of flavored tobacco products that could delay the enactment, or even stop it entirely. But there's a chance that, four months from now, buying flavored cigars, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco in New York City will be against the law—just like buying fireworks, drugs, or guns.
This morning I spoke with Ron Melendi, general manager of De La Concha, a fine cigar shop in Midtown Manhattan that’s been in business since 1964, longer than I’ve been alive. The law will take away a big chunk of De La Concha's longstanding business.
“The final version of the law kills our aromatic pipe tobacco business, which is a material business for us,” said Melendi. “We’re known for pipes, we do a tremendous pipe trade, and now you’re basically taking our customer base—you’ve lost them. You can’t recoup this business. It’s gone. They’re going to go to the Internet, to Westchester, to Jersey, Long Island—we’ve lost them. We have to stop this now.”
The lawmakers who signed this legislation (Bill 433-A, read Greg Mottola’s fine story on the subject) envisioned this as a way to keep tobacco out of the hands of children. "This bill improves upon the recent federal ban on flavored cigarettes and makes New York City the first city to protect children from all flavored products on the market," said Bloomberg as he signed.
I’m a dad, so I share the concerns of the mayor to keep tobacco out of the hands of kids. But you don’t have to ban an entire segment of the tobacco business to save children. Kids don’t buy tobacco products at fine cigar shops—cigars and tobacco are regulated, and fine cigar shops do their job of keeping children out. If they don’t, they risk everything.
“We’re trained by the state to know what I.D.s are acceptable,” says Melendi. “I tell my guys if the guy looks under 30 to ask for I.D.”
If they get it wrong, and they are caught, there’s a hefty fine. Do it three times and you lose your tobacco license—for six months. “Which will put us out of business,” says Melendi.
Flavored cigarettes (except for menthol cigarettes) have already been banned by the FDA. That leaves only flavored cigars, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco to be affected by the New York City ban. Aromatic, or flavored, pipe tobaccos make up more than half the pipe tobacco market. When’s the last time you saw a kid smoking a pipe? Most pipe smokers I know are the gray hair sort. “Our median age for pipe smokers is 35 or 40 years old. We have pipe smokers as old as 90,” says Melendi. “I’ve never even seen an 18 year old or 19 year old smoking pipes. It’s a lot of professionals, lawyers, educators, professors—these are the people who smoke pipes.”
Melendi, like others, fears this ban is only the first step in the attack on all types of tobacco. It’s time to fight.
“You wake up one morning, you have this hideous weed in the garden,” he says. “If you ignore it, the whole garden might get out of control. You have to stop it—it’s going to spread.”
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