We Have Met the Enemy, and They Are Us, Sort Of…

A few years back, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) was given oversight regarding cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Many people thought that this was just another example of governmental overkill, but a lot of others were relieved that they left premium cigars and pipe tobacco alone. I’m sorry to report that the FDA will now be able to stick their noses into these areas as well. They have come up with a laundry list of proposed regulations that might radically change how we can enjoy a group of products that are totally legal. I’m not going to launch into a diatribe about the ‘nanny state’ politics of the whole situation – that’s already been done ad nauseum. What I will do is to explain the nuts-and-bolts of the situation, offer my personal thoughts and tell you about how you can act against these measures.

For premium cigar smokers, the consequences could be dire. The FDA wants to define a premium cigar as one that costs $10 or more! Since premium cigars are assumed to be made of nothing but natural tobacco, they won’t have to undergo rigorous testing and will be able to go on as usual, but for those under $10, they’ll be lumped in with machine-made cigars which may be made of tobacco and non-tobacco products. These cigars will be heavily regulated. On our website, we’ve been selling cigars that are hand-rolled of pure tobacco and are priced well below $10 for many years. There’s no rational reason for putting these fine cigars in the same category as the flavored “cigars” that you can find in gas stations and convenience stores. The makers of the all-tobacco handmade cigars that sell below $10 have another option, though. They could raise the price of a $3.00 cigar to $10 to avoid the scrutiny, but most of the people who enjoy them will no longer be able to afford them.

Looking past how this will inconvenience the consumer, there are other dire conclusions involved here. If this happens, thousands of people here in the US could (and probably will) lose their jobs. The stock market may be doing well, but the employment situation is still fairly bad. The last thing the economy needs is for more people to be put out of work, with the very real possibility that it may take many of these people years to find new jobs. Taking this a bit further, many smaller cigar makers in the Caribbean and Central and South America could shut down. Some of these countries greatly depend upon these companies for their economic health, and some of those nations could destabilize as a result. That’s not something we want to think about, considering how close some of these countries are to our own borders.

Pipe tobacco could be affected severely as well. Any blend on the market as of February 15, 2007 would be grandfathered in, so it could be sold without changes. The reason for this is to take the roll-your-own tobaccos that have been relabeled as pipe tobacco off the shelves. This could be accomplished by defining pipe tobacco by content and characteristics without throwing the baby out with the bath water. This potentially means that many of the more recently released blends like Mac Baren’s HH Latakia Flake, G.L. Pease’s JackKnife Plug, and my own Hearth & Home Marquee BlackHouse, Magnum O! and WhiteKnight could disappear.  If a manufacturer wants to keep one of the affected blends, they might have to submit it for expensive testing, which might make the blend prohibitively expensive.

I feel fairly confident that the final set of proposals will be less severe than I’ve laid out, but there’s no guarantee. But there’s something you can do to help. You can write or email your representatives in the senate and congress, and remind them that you are a voter and that you feel that these proposed regulations are too extreme, and that their action or inaction will be remembered by you and your friends and family on election day.

There is a period during which the public may comment on the proposed guidelines, directly on the FDA website, and they are obligated to reply to each note. Please follow this link: http://www.pipesandcigars.com/page/fda-regulation-comments?slide=5, and follow the directions so you can make your voice heard.

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for www.pipesandcigars.com in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at russo@pipesandcigars.com or by calling 1-800-494-9144.