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Blair Horner: Regulating Cigars

It’s summertime. 

That means kids swimming in the pool, going to camp and – of course - smoking their first cigar.

Shocked?  Every year, more than 1,000,000 kids try their first cigar.  And, if the cigar companies have their way, you won’t be able to do much about it.

After intensive lobbying by cigar companies, Congress is about to vote on an amendment that would exempt many cigars from any regulation at all. 

The Food and Drug Administration, which currently regulates cigarettes and chewing tobacco, is poised to make cigars subject to a 2009 law that gave it power to oversee the sale of tobacco products.

Premium cigar companies and sellers worry that such regulations could require the producers of high-end cigars to include health warnings on packaging, force sellers to store cigars in separate rooms accessible only to employees, and bar shopkeepers from making sales over the phone or
recommending a particular product.

As a result, the cigar lobby lobbied members of Congress to advance legislation to protect the industry.  The bill, which now has 199 co-sponsors, seeks to exempt premium cigars from government regulation.

Congress granted the FDA the authority to govern the sale and marketing of tobacco products in 2009 in an effort to curb teen smoking.  And there is evidence that cigars are becoming a favorite of teenagers. 

The state of Maryland has examined the use of cigars by teens.  That state’s data shows that more than 76 percent of underage cigar smokers in high school smoke flavored cigars, which come in kid-friendly flavors such as strawberry, watermelon, peach, vanilla and chocolate.  The tobacco industry is barred from selling candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, but not from using such flavors in cigars.

While cigarette smoking among Maryland high school students has dropped by nearly 40 percent since 2000, cigar use has climbed 11 percent during the same period.  Small cigars can be purchased individually, sometimes for less than 70-cents, making them appealing and affordable to kids.  In contrast, cigarettes can't be purchased individually and packs sell for upwards of $5.

The US Surgeon General has looked at the issue as well.  In a recent report, the Surgeon General found that nearly one in 10 high school students were cigar smokers and 4 percent of students in grades 6 through 8 were as well.

For most people, smoking is a lifelong addiction. As many as three out of four high school smokers continue to smoke into adulthood. To put it into different terms, as many as 88 percent of adult daily cigarette smokers report they started smoking by the age of 18, according to the Surgeon General.

The cigar companies know this.  That’s why they are already marketing cigars with fruit and candy flavors.  And while cigar companies will argue that don’t market them to children, 1,000,000 kids per year smoking their first cigar speaks for itself.

As mentioned earlier, the measure to gut FDA oversight of cigars has considerable Congressional support.  But instead of kowtowing to the cigar lobby, lawmakers should ensure that tobacco products be regulated in a way that protects the public and kids in particular.

We know that smoking cigarettes cause cancer.  Smoking cigars can too.  Congress must not roll back the law’s health protections.  Smoking tobacco – whatever the form – should be regulated as the dangerous product that it is.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division. His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

 The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its managemen