As expected this week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced sweeping regulation to the e-cigarette and vaping industry, but in doing so it saved its harshest proposals for flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes.
In a statement today by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, mainly focused on the underage use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, the FDA commissioner announced that he was proposing a ban on flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes:
Finally, to ensure that we’re taking a comprehensive approach, we must evaluate our regulatory approach to flavored cigars Flavors are added to cigars and other tobacco products for various reasons, such as reducing the harshness, bitterness and astringency of tobacco products during inhalation and to soothe irritation during use. Research shows that, compared to adults (25 or older) who smoke cigars, a higher proportion of youth who smoke cigars use flavored cigars.
These data also indicate that eliminating flavors from cigars would likely help prevent cigar initiation by young people. Accordingly, I am also outlining policy goals to address the presence of flavors in cigars – including those that were subject to the compliance policy for newly deemed products, and those that were “grandfathered.”
Gottlieb’s letter isn’t binding, just an announcement that FDA plans on taking these steps. It is expected to face pushback from a variety of tobacco industries and many expect it will be at least two years before any ban would go into effect. It’s unclear if the agency is considering an exemption to larger, higher-priced flavored cigars made by premium cigar manufacturers.
Flavored cigars have a large impact on the U.S. premium cigar market. It’s widely believed that ACID Blondie and Java by Rocky Patel are amongst the top five best-selling individual SKUs for premium cigars.
Other companies such as Miami Cigar & Co. (Tatiana), Davidoff of Geneva USA (Bacarrat), General Cigar Co. (CAO Flavours), Oliva (NUb Café), Nat Sherman (Host), Ted’s and many others have interested in flavored cigars.
That being said those brands represent a small part of flavored cigar sales. Swisher International (parent of Drew Estate), Altria (Black & Mild, parent of Nat Sherman), Imperial Brands, plc (Dutch Masters, parent of Altadis U.S.A.) and Swedish Match (White Owl) all have much larger financial interests in flavored cigars, as well as the menthol cigarette ban and e-cigarette actions.
While the timing of the proposal—included in FDA’s first major e-cigarette action after the deeming regulations—might seem odd, the agency did indicate it was considering both actions earlier this year when it asked for public comment.
It should be noted this is hardly the first time the agency has tried to regulate flavored cigars differently than other cigars. In 2014, the agency proposed a potential pathway for an exemption for “premium cigars,” which included a provision that required the cigars not include “characterizing flavors.”
In addition, FDA had tried to introduce even stricter rules for flavored cigars, but those provisions were struck down by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Currently, flavored cigars are regulated the same as their non-flavored counterparts.
As for e-cigarettes and vaping, FDA is proposing that those products only be sold in locations that don’t allow customers to be under the age of 18. It is proposing that flavored liquid not be displayed. In addition, it is asking for tougher restrictions on online sales of e-cigarettes.
It should be noted that many of those proposals are in line with what category-leader Juul voluntarily announced earlier this month.