Bully Tactics: The FDA Just Went Out Of Bounds

John Pullo Managing Editor, Cigar Advisors Magazine
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Here’s a classic picture: you’re sitting at a baseball game, settling into your seat with an ice-cold beer in hand. You look up at the scoreboard, the pitcher takes his last warm-up throw…you hear the announcer’s booming voice, asking you to remove your hat and stand for the national anthem. Moments later, the singer bangs out the highest note in her repertoire to hit “the land of the FREEEEEEEEEE”…

Except when it comes to your cigars, it seems. The FDA has something else in mind.

This is the irony of rights: in one breath, we sing on high the praises of our constitutionally guaranteed right to chart our own course in life – and in the next breath, are forced to use that voice to loudly speak up in defense of something as simple as enjoying a cigar. A simple pleasure, but a really big deal. Yes, I enjoy cigars – as they’re not only my livelihood, they’re one of my hobbies as well. Just as a beer guy appreciates his craft brews for more than the hangover – I enjoy smoking a cigar for the simple pleasures it brings me. Relaxation. Satisfaction. Yes, even celebration, as I’m holding a couple of really good cigars to help mark a few choice milestones in my future. They will taste extra sweet when the time comes.

The good news is that I already have these cigars in my humidor; the bad news is, the uncertainty down the road about whether or not I’ll be able to replace them. See, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) placed massive regulations on the premium cigar industry in 2016. The Deeming Rule, which went into effect on August 8th, is 499 pages of nannyist hoo-hah designed to curtail the “tobacco epidemic” in America. While 500 pages of rules is probably considered a “brisk read” in bureaucratic circles, what’s lost on everyone writing them is that the right to engage in this smoky pastime – smoking a cigar, is a completely legal thing to do.

To be clear, there is no “epidemic.” The FDA wants to keep kids from smoking cigars; everybody’s pretty ok with that. But what the FDA hasn’t factored in is that, with these rules, they’re actually curtailing your ability to smoke a cigar, even though you’re well within your means and right mind to make that decision – to enjoy, or not to enjoy – for yourself.

The FDA has signed its own permission slip to dictate how cigars are made, sold and consumed by adults like you and me. It’s added mandates and taxes (they prefer the term “user fees”)  to just about every step of the production chain, is demanding the boxes be marked up with health warnings and has appointed itself the arbiter of which cigars will even be allowed to be sold on the market past 2018. Free cigar samples are banned, too. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, imagine going to a wine tasting – where you’re not allowed to taste the wine.

Illegal? Overreach? Probably. And the lawsuits are flyin’, because the FDA’s actions could shut some small businesses out of the market, and out of business. That alone is reason why premium cigars should be exempt of these regulations. Here’s another… premium cigar smokers? We’re adults. We smoke cigars in moderation. And kids don’t smoke our cigars, because they cost upwards of $10 a piece – no kid does this. Even so, FDA has made it insanely, and needlessly hard on cigar lovers: small businesses that employ thousands of people across the country should not have to go out of business because the FDA wanted to do things the “easy way,” and try to save you from yourself.

I don’t need to be saved, and I don’t need a government agency to do it for me. If I want to fire up a Perdomo 20th Anniversary Maduro after a nice, hearty dinner, so be it. Why should these FDA people decide that a celebration, featuring a great cigar, shouldn’t be an option afforded to me?

It’s important to recognize the work people are doing on this issue. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) has reintroduced a house bill, called the “Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2017.” Along with a growing number of cosponsors, and support from groups like Cigar Rights of America, there’s a lifeline for us cigar lovers out there. The FDA already went over Congress’ heads in seizing this authority – so maybe it’s about time the agency gets reined back in.

People don’t like our hobby. I get it; maybe it’s not for them. But that doesn’t mean that our rights to enjoy something completely legal can be challenged, just because they’re something others don’t understand. We have voices from across the board supporting our message, that the FDA shouldn’t have taken it upon themselves to dictate the final word over the premium cigar industry. It won’t be easy, but it sure as hell will be worth it. And when we win, I’m going to sit back and light a cigar to celebrate.

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