Democrats and Republicans Unite to Protect the Right to Browse Cigars


A bipartisan bill with more than 200 co-sponsors in the House would prevent the Food and Drug Administration from regulating "traditional and premium cigars" under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Roll Call notes that the bill's supporters include "political opposites" ranging from Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Allen West (R-Fla.) on the right to Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) on the left. Cigar makers and tobacconists worry that FDA regulation would impose onerous burdens, including warning labels on packages, a ban on phone sales, prohibition of flavored cigars, and a requirement that cigars be kept away from customers in a separate room accessible only to employees (which would spell the end of cigar shopping as we know it). They argue that the tobacco control law was mainly aimed at curtailing underage smoking and therefore should not be applied to products that teenagers rarely consume. The Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act applies to unfiltered products wrapped in tobacco leaf that weigh more than six pounds per 1,000 cigars.

Ordinarily I am leery of bipartisanship, special favors for particular industries, and legislation that promises to save and/or create jobs. But several factors count in this bill's favor: 1) It aims to block absurd regulations that would arbitrarily interfere with adults' freedom in the name of protecting children, 2) it is opposed by Altria (a.k.a. Philip Morris) and the major anti-smoking groups, the same coalition that gave us FDA regulation of tobacco products, and 3) the arguments against it are fatuous. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, worries that "many high school and college students mistakenly believe that cigars are not very dangerous." Leaving aside the not insignificant point that cigars are not, in fact, "very dangerous," why would regulation by the FDA, the same agency charged with ensuring that drugs are "safe and effective," make cigars seem more rather than less hazardous?  

I noted the cigar industry's worries about FDA regulation last December. As you might expect, Michael Bloomberg's New York is ahead of the FDA when it comes to stopping kids from smoking cigarettes by barring adults from buying flavored cigars.

[Thanks to Bill Godshall for the tip.]