Influence Analytics: FDA, keep your hands off our cheap cigars

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Picture of cigar, flanked by cigar tube and cigar cutter

Cigar tube and cutter. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is receiving a flood of comment letters from cigar aficionados who want the agency to lay off regulating pricey cigars as part of a long-fought initiative to regulate tobacco products. Of the nearly 55,000 comments received by the agency, slightly more than half — 29,438 — are from cigar smokers objecting to one option proposed by the agency: to exempt cigars costing more than $10 apiece from regulation. More than 2,000 flowed in during the past week, making it the most comment-inspiring regulation during that time period, according to Docket Wrench. The deadline for comments is Aug. 8.

The letters contain common language such as, “Premium cigars should be defined only by their construction and composition, and not by their price,” and “Cigars priced $10 and above currently represent a very small fraction of the premium cigar industry and this arbitrary number would result in serious damages to an industry and a hobby that’s very important to me and millions of other Americans,” phrasing being passed around by cigar shops and pro-cigar advocacy groups on social media. Two of the most active advocacy groups opposing the proposal are Cigar Rights of America and the trade group International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association.

But the Cigar Association of America, another trade group, has been more measured in its response, issuing a statement last April that it would “continue to work with” the FDA and that the agency “appears to recognize that our industry is composed of multiple segments.”

In proposing to regulate cigars, the FDA created two possible options. The first would bring all cigars under its authority. The second would make an exemption for cigars priced $10 or more, on the theory that they are less attractive to young people.

Public health groups such as the American Cancer Society, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians are uniformly in favor of the FDA’s regulation of tobacco products with no exemptions — something they fought long and hard for — and are also weighing in with comment letters.

Meanwhile, in Congress: Cigar industry and advocacy groups have also been pushing in favor of legislation that would exempt all cigars from FDA regulation. H.R. 792 has now gathered 159 cosponsors and S. 772, 15 cosponsors, including some Democrats. Neither bill has come for a committee vote or or floor action. (credit: Open Congress.)

And on the House and Senate floors: Democrats talk more about cigars than Republicans do. (credit: Capitol Words.)

Cigars attract campaign money: Many a member of Congress use cigars as part of the entertainment at political fundraisers; apparently smoke filled rooms are still good for something. See this 2013 fundraiser sponsored by the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association for Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., and this “cocktail and cigar” reception for Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y.

And in the states: More than 111 bills including the word “cigar” have been approved by state legislatures since 2006 and 756 bills have been proposed. (credit: Open States.)