The U.S. Food & Drug Administration says it’s on track to deliver an update about its plans to restrict the sale of certain types of flavored cigars this spring. FDA announced plans for bans on characterizing flavors in tobacco products last year after a federal lawsuit forced the agency to publicly take a position on banning characterizing flavors.

In a blog post, Mitch Zeller—the head of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products—says the agency will give an update outlining its plans this spring.

Zeller writes:

As the next step in this process, we expect to issue proposed rules for these two product standards in the spring. At that point, the public will see the specifics of the proposed product standards and will have the opportunity to comment. In general, comments to proposed rule dockets may be helpful in determining what changes, if any, might be made from the proposed rule to a final rule.

After reviewing and considering comments, the FDA could then proceed to issue final product standards, which would become enforceable once in effect.

If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any prohibition on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any other tobacco product.

The two specific product standards are one regarding banning menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and another banning “all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars.”

This would be the next step in a process that will take many years before these products would be banned.

Zeller added:

As the next step in this process, we expect to issue proposed rules for these two product standards in the spring. At that point, the public will see the specifics of the proposed product standards and will have the opportunity to comment. In general, comments to proposed rule dockets may be helpful in determining what changes, if any, might be made from the proposed rule to a final rule.

For context, FDA announced the deeming regulations in April 2014—opening up a comment period similar to the one Zeller mentions above—and then finalized the rules on May 5, 2016. Some of the rules went into effect in August 2016. Of note, due to lawsuits and FDA’s own delays, many of the regulations announced in 2016 are currently not in effect for premium cigars as of today.

But the banning of flavored tobacco products is likely to be much more contentious. Sources have told halfwheel lawsuits are already in the works and it’s likely there will be more once the rules are finalized.

Given the magnitude of flavored tobacco sales, there will also be a continuation of intense lobbying in Congress, something Zeller seemed acutely aware of with one of his comments:

If implemented, the FDA’s enforcement of any prohibition on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would only address manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers. The FDA cannot and will not enforce against individual consumer possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any other tobacco product.

A common complaint, particularly amongst Democrats, regarding the banning of menthol cigarettes, is that it would give law enforcement more opportunities to arrest or investigate Black smokers. A reported 80 percent of Black smokers say they have smoked menthol cigarettes.

Charlie Minato

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.