On one end of the spectrum are the hand-rolled Cohibas and Arturo Fuentes that stock the humidors of high-end cigar shops and are favored by aficionados who don’t blink at paying top dollar. On the other are the convenience-store brands that appeal primarily to young smokers, such as 59-cent blueberry Swisher Sweets, peach-flavored White Owl Cigarillos, Phillies Blunts Sour Apple and menthol Cheyenne “little cigars” that are barely distinguishable from cigarettes.
Public health experts and some anti-tobacco lawmakers are pressing the FDA to regulate all cigars, but they mostly worry about the inexpensive, flavored varieties that have proliferated in recent years. Such cigars “are marketed aggressively and have resulted in high school kids and young adults being twice as likely as their older counterparts to be cigar smokers,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a recent report.
Meanwhile, makers of “premium cigars” have been lobbying intensely in an effort to avoid being lumped in with the candy- and fruit-flavored, corner-store varieties. A bill on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by dozens of lawmakers, would keep carefully defined “traditional large and premium” cigars out of the FDA’s reach, although its prospects remain uncertain.
“You don’t see a teenager with a $15 premium cigar sticking out of his mouth, standing on the corner,” said Bill Spann, president of the International Premium Cigar & Retailers Association. “Nobody’s ducking outside for a 15-minute cigar break. Nobody’s smoking two boxes of cigars a day. You don’t inhale them. And they are not marketed to, desired by or affordable to underage youth.”
The industry’s main trade association, the Cigar Association of America, which represents all kinds of cigar manufacturers, is pushing a simple message: One-size-fits-all regulation won’t work.
“All our products are different, so you should look at all of them differently,” said Craig Williamson, president of the cigar group.
The 2009 law that gave the FDA power to regulate cigarettes and several other types of tobacco also authorized it to broaden its jurisdiction to include other products, such as cigars, pipe tobacco and e-cigarettes. Late last year, the FDA said it would issue a proposal by April.
In the interim, cigarmakers have begun to brace for their first brush with government regulation and the changes that might bring. “It’s something we’ve been planning for,” said David Sylvia, a spokesman for Altria Group, the parent company of John Middleton, which manufactures the popular Black & Mild cigar brand and a variety of pipe tobaccos.