At its core, I believe journalism is to take the complex and make it simple.
As noted elsewhere, this is a guide to help consumers, retailers, manufacturers and anyone interested in cigars understand the upcoming deeming regulations. At best, there are gray areas in many places of the regulation and how they impact premium cigars. FDA has made it clear on numerous occasions that it still needs to put out guidance in certain areas—some of which are highly important areas—but even after that has been accomplished, countless questions will remain.
That being said, in the week that has followed the announcement of the finalized deeming regulations, there has been a lot of misinformation, some characterized as fact and some as speculation. Our goal is to take the complex and make it simple.
Some days that’s a lot more challenging than others. This is certainly one of those days.
Just because the information is complex, it doesn’t excuse much of the misinformation that’s been circulated in the previous week. Much like the last two-plus years of intense FDA coverage, we have tried our best to base information from FDA’s own documents, not that of hearsay.
My hope is that consumers can better understand the challenges facing the cigar companies and tobacconists they rely on for the cigars they love. For the industry, I hope this serves as a starting point for your own education and helps to deal with the confusion that has been caused by much of the conflicting information that has been published.
Some parts of this document are opinion, hopefully that’s clear based off of statements like “In this guide’s opinion…” but many parts are based entirely off FDA’s own publications. We’ve provided citations in the case of the latter so that you can further investigate for your own purposes as you see fit.
Over the last 24+ months, not a week has gone by in which I haven’t spent time researching the FDA issue in an effort to better understand the potential regulations for myself and our readers. I’m left with three final thoughts, entirely my opinion, regarding the regulations in a larger context.
1. FDA will regulate tobacco products
Whether or not you agree FDA should regulate all tobacco, or how strictly it should regulate tobacco—it’s part of the organization’s mandate, one that has been extended by both Congress and the courts over previous decades.
FDA believes its job is to regulate tobacco products and it’s going to try to do so in the best way it sees fit, something that often means a very aggressive path.
The cigar industry is certainly not the main target of the regulations; it is clear the burgeoning vapor industry is priority number one. And in many cases regulations applied to that industry might have unintended consequences for cigars.
Unfortunately, those who will be impacted most are likely the smallest of manufacturers, many of which produce products domestically. The few places where you can watch a cigar rolled in front of you and then purchase it off the table will be amongst the hardest hit. Tobacconists who like to create their own pipe blends are likely a thing of the past. It’s an unintended consequence of trying to implement these rules fairly to everyone, across not just the cigar world, but also the larger world of tobacco products.
2. FDA Has Never Regulated An Industry as Unique as Ours
We are a centuries-old, virtually unregulated, small industry with lots of players. FDA has acknowledged that the cigar industry is different than any other it has previously regulated and as such, there are many gray areas regarding how regulation will be carried out.
The deeming regulations are fluid. While the word “final” appears on the May 5 document, it isn’t the final word. FDA admits there are various components it still needs to flesh out in the coming months and those are just the ones it publicly acknowledges at times. There are countless questions that I have about specific instances of regulation, some of which will be answered in the next year, others of which will likely take a lot longer.
3. Most importantly, this is just the start
FDA has made it clear this is a foundational set of regulations. This will be the first in many battles the cigar industry will have on the regulatory fight on a federal level. As mentioned above, FDA believes its mandate calls for it to regulate tobacco, a product it deems as a health risk.
It does not matter whether or not you agree with all or any of its assessments—believing that this will be the final set of regulations is simply delusional.