A new bill introduced in Congress would drastically change the U.S. federal government’s laws regarding tobacco products, most notably, banning the sale of cigars online and through catalogs.
H.R. 293 is described as the Youth Vaping Prevention Act of 2019, but in reality it will affect every single tobacco product sold in America.
For cigar smokers, the most notable change will be modifying the Jenkins Act, the main piece of law regarding the sale of cigarettes, to remove an exemption that allows for cigars and other tobacco products to be mailed to consumers. H.R. 293 would also ban the sale of e-cigarettes across states lines. This would mean an end to buying cigars online, through catalogs or over the phone.
In 2009, the PACT Act was passed which modified the Jenkins Act to ban the mailing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco across state lines. While claims of national security and reducing youth smoking rates were hailed as reasons for the bill’s passage, the main reason was that it meant that states with high cigarette taxes could avoid losing revenue to customers who were buying cigarettes and having them shipped from lower tax states.
It’s estimated that as much as half of all cigars sold in the U.S. are sold online.
The bill was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.. DeLauro is the chair of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, i.e. the House subcommittee that oversees the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) most directly. She is also a senior member of the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee.
DeLauro introduced a similar bill in December as part of the 115th Congress. It attracted four co-sponsors: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.; Rep. Jaime Raskin, D-Md.; Rep Bobby Rush, D-Ill.; and Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind.
The new bill has zero co-sponsors at this time.
The bill would also modify the current federal tax statue on cigars. Currently, cigars are taxed at 52.75 percent of their wholesale price, capped at 40.26 cents per cigar. H.R. 293 would establish a tax of $24.78 per pound of cigar with a floor of no less than 5.033 cents per cigar. By halfwheel estimates, a robusto typically weighs around 13 grams, meaning that robustos would likely be taxed at 71 cents per cigar, while larger sizes would be more expensive.
In addition, the bill would increase the taxes for cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as create a tax structure for e-cigarettes.
Most flavored tobacco products would be prohibited under the new law. The bill would add a restriction that meant that any tobacco product could not have an additive or any “artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco) or an herb or spice.” That list includes menthol, albeit menthol cigarettes would remain exempt. An exception is made for an “electronic nicotine delivery system” that is approved as a tobacco cessation device.
Late last year, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of FDA, indicated the agency was planning on banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol, in response to surging youth use of e-cigarettes. In recent weeks, Gottlieb has called on e-cigarette and vaping manufacturers to present plans to the agency that show that industry is committed to stopping underage use of their products. He has warned that without these plans, the agency will take drastic measures.
The changes described above would go into effect one year after the bill was passed.