TALLAHASSEE — As the federal government prepares for even tighter regulation of tobacco products, it’s considering whether to cut cigar smokers some slack.
The Food and Drug Administration is acting in the face of the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes and concerns over kids getting into the habit known as “vaping,” lured by fruit and candy flavors.
The battery-powered devices heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating a vapor that’s inhaled. The FDA could ban their sale to minors and require warning labels and pre-approval for new varieties of “e-cigs.”
At the same time, the feds question whether certain smokes merit their attention and are seeking public feedback until July 9 on whether to exempt fine cigars. After that, it may take a year or more for rules to go into effect.
Though the agency “recognizes that all cigars are harmful and potentially addictive,” it also suggests some cigars are worse than others in getting teens addicted to smoking.
It proposes carving out “premium cigars” — hand-rolled, all-tobacco cigars that cost $10 or more each – from future regulation.
The various proposals generated more than 1,200 comments as of Wednesday at Regulations.gov, the government’s rulemaking website, many of them focusing on the possible cigar exception.
“Dear FDA, please keep your dirty paws out of my humidor,” wrote one anonymous commenter, referring to the cedar-lined case in which aficionados keep their stogies.
Another took issue with the price point: “Many high quality premium cigars cost less than $10. Also, cigars are not a gateway to cigarettes and have never been marketed to teens.”
But still another wrote: “I am a realist and I accept that with the runaway popularity of anti-tobacco legislation, the complete exemption of cigars becomes more indefensible each year.”
With Tampa’s history as Florida’s “Cigar City,” the issue causes considerable concern locally.
Cigar making has over a century of history in Ybor City.
The Arturo Fuente cigar manufacturer and J.C. Newman Cigar Co. are still headquartered in Tampa.
Newman, which employs 110 people in Tampa, also makes many inexpensive machine-made brands that wouldn’t be considered “premium cigars.”
“Depending on how they regulate, they could easily put us out of business,” said Eric Newman, the company’s third-generation president. “Can you imagine taking the cigar out of ‘Cigar City’? It’s unfathomable.
“We don’t sell to kids,” he added. “We’re not the enemy.”
The government “has always lumped cigars in with cigarettes,” said Wally Reyes, an Ybor City historian and fourth-generation cigar maker.
“It’s like comparing apples to potatoes: They don’t go together,” Reyes said.
In favor of the exception, not surprisingly, are the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association and Cigar Rights of America, both cigar trade-related groups.
At least “the message got through that premium cigars are different from other (tobacco) product categories,” J. Glynn Loope, executive director of the cigar rights group, said in a statement.
Freeing cigars from regulation would increase “the ability of manufacturers to exercise their creativity in the creation of new cigars, to how cigars are promoted and marketed, to how consumers shop and enjoy their cigars,” Loope added.
Anti-smoking organizations don’t agree.
“No matter the size, cigars are tobacco, and they are dangerous to your health,” the American Cancer Society says on its website. “And like cigarettes, cigars give off secondhand smoke, which can fill a room for hours.”
The state’s Tobacco Free Florida program did not respond to a request for comment.
Florida has its own rules on tobacco sale and use, including a state law banning minors from smoking within 1,000 feet of a school, for example.
Moreover, state lawmakers this year passed a measure banning e-cigarette sales to those under 18.
Roland Mintz, who owns and operates The Brass Pipe tobacco shop in Fort Pierce, welcomes any relief he can get.
The high state taxes on tobacco, combined with federal taxes, have cost him all of the mail order business he used to do with out-of-state customers, he said.
But Mintz, 64, keeps going.
Selling cigars “is what I’ve been doing for 37 years,” Mintz said. “I still smoke about four a day. It helps relieves the stress.”
Comments on proposed federal tobacco regulation can be submitted through the following link: http://tbo.ly/SusFgY