Senators Voice Support for Cigars

Eight senators sent a bipartisan letter to the head of the Food & Drug Administration last week that strongly urges the agency to enact an exemption for premium cigars.

Since 2009, the FDA has overseen the United States tobacco industry, and while it has adopted new regulations for cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco and other tobacco products, cigars have largely been left alone.

However, on April 24, the FDA announced that it intends to increase regulations on tobacco products, including cigars. In the proposal, though, the agency said that it may opt to enact "Option 2," which would extend new regulations to the entire tobacco industry but exclude premium cigars.

The senators' letter, addressed to FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, praises the agency for including such an option, but argues that the premium cigar definition included in Option 2 must be amended. The letter states that failure to amend the definition would lead to the loss of thousands of American jobs as as well "consumer freedom."

The premium cigar definition that the senators propose in their letter differs in a few ways from the one the FDA proposed in Option 2. The most ostensible difference is that the senators' definition removes any mention of retail price. One of the more controversial parts of the FDA's premium cigar definition was that it included language that said a cigar must carry a suggested retail price of no less than $10 to be legally classified as premium.

Additionally, the senators' definition protects machine-made cigars manufactured in the United States on "antique machinery." The note also mentions that premium cigars infused with "uniquely adult flavorings" are excluded, although it is unclear how the senators' definition addresses that issue. Some in the cigar industry don't want to include any mention of flavoring in the definition of a premium cigar.

"A premium cigar," the letter states, "should be defined as any roll of tobacco that is wrapped in 100 percent leaf tobacco, bunched with 100 percent tobacco filler, contains no filter, tip or non-tobacco mouthpiece, and weighs at least 6 pounds per 1,000 count. It also must either have a 100 percent leaf tobacco binder and be hand-rolled, or have a homogenized tobacco leaf binder and be made in the United States using human hands to lay the 100 percent leaf tobacco wrapper onto only one machine that bunches, wraps, and caps each individual cigar."

The letter was filed on August 8, the same day that the FDA ended its public commenting period on the controversial cigar regulations it announced back in April. It was signed by both Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (Dem.) and Marco Rubio (Rep.); Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu (Dem.) and David Vitter (Rep.); as well as Sens. Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma-Rep.), Joe Manchin (West Virginia-Dem.), Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania-Rep.), and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii-Dem.).

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