Cigar Aficionado

CRA Names New Chairman, Pledges Support Of Premium Cigar Exemption

Today the Cigar Rights of America, a group of cigar industry and consumer advocates fighting to protect the rights of cigar smokers, named Robert Levin, president of Ashton Distributors Inc. of Philadelphia, chairman of the organizaiton. Levin replaces outgoing chair Jeff Borysiewicz of Corona Cigar Co.

Levin's appointment comes at a busy and pivotal time in the United States cigar industry, as 40 days ago the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to enact greater restrictions on tobacco products sold in the U.S. The disturbing news came with a potential ray of hope for premium cigarmakers known as "option two," which could exclude premium cigars from those FDA regulations. Today, the CRA pledged its support for "option two."

"It is imperative that the premium cigar industry work toward a complete exemption for this class of tobacco products," said Levin. "We will be working hard to convey our message in Washington, through the current public comment period, to get our message across that premium, handmade cigars are unique and not what Congress intended with the Tobacco Control Act."

The notion of a cigar advocacy group endorsing an exemption to FDA control might seem like a non-issue, but the reality is more complex. At the center of debate is the FDA's definition of a premium cigar. The FDA says a premium cigar is: Wrapped in all-natural tobacco; contains a 100 percent leaf tobacco binder; contains primarily long-filler tobacco; is made by combining manually the wrapper, filler and binder; has no filter, tip or non-tobacco mouthpiece and is capped by hand; and does not have a characterizing flavor other than tobacco. These characterizations include virtually every cigar rated by Cigar Aficionado magazine and Cigar Insider newsletter.

The FDA also stipulated a minimum price point of $10 for premium cigars, a description the CRA opposes. In a statement, the CRA announced: "The CRA board does not support any price point component as a factor in defining a premium cigar." The CRA said it will work with other industry allies to develop its comment to the FDA, addressing more than 70 items within the FDA deeming regulations.

Levin, who also served as CRA chairman from 2009 to 2011, praised outgoing chairman Borysiewicz.

"We sincerely thank Jeff for his hard work for the last four years. We would not be having the discussion of an exemption for premium cigars were it not for the legislative efforts of Jeff and the CRA staff and team of advocates. Jeff will remain active with our advocacy and legislative efforts, offering his expertise and passion for the premium cigar industry."

Said Glynn Loope, executive director of the CRA: "It is imperative that each individual that has a passion for great cigars provide their comments to FDA, as to why premium cigars should not be regulated."

The FDA has invited comments from the public before it determines whether to grant the premium cigar industry an exemption. The comment period ends on July 9th. To submit an electronic comment to the FDA and stand up for premium cigars, click here.