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  • Writer's pictureBen Balliro

Hit Them Where It Hurts!

Updated: May 12, 2019

I’ve been trying to keep up in the latest media on what’s been going on with the premium tobacco industry and the USFDA. There’s not much news unfortunately because there is a small percentage of premium cigar smokers vs. cigarette smokers. Drew Newman, fourth generation of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company (the oldest cigar manufacturer in the U.S.) says, “Premium cigars are just 3 percent of the cigar industry and just one half of one percent of the tobacco industry as a whole. We are just a tiny sliver of the tobacco world...” With such a tiny portion of the tobacco market why would the USFDA want to crack down so hard with rules and regulations?

On the Senate floor, in the House of Representatives, and various town hall meetings Sen. Marco Rubio and other paid lobbyists and cigar company spokesmen speak on behalf of this ‘sliver of the tobacco world’. It’s important that our voice be heard, but I believe we as consumers or professionals could focus our attention to hitting the FDA where it hurts. You can watch the debate on Facebook’s page of U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship

In the debate, Sen. Rubio is on the panel vocalizing his concerns; and let me just say this, (and I speak on behalf of the majority of us) we the cigar smoking patrons are forever grateful we have at least one politician working towards our favor. My only concern with Sen. Rubio is that although he is speaking for the cigar industry as a whole it’s difficult for him to fight for Only the premium tobacco industry. In other words, he has many other topics on the table to discuss such as the Child Tax Credit, the crisis in Venezuela, and the midterm elections. Which is fine because as a Senator you have other things to worry about that can easily be justified as more important than premium cigars, I get it. However, when I watched the hearing I found myself more in tune with Drew Newman and Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Corona Cigar Co. who were also on the panel, because their businesses will be adversely and directly affected by the new FDA Regulations. Now I’m not saying Marco doesn’t have a passion for cigars and for the industry. Apparently in one article I read he actually does smoke premium cigars from time to time; although you almost never see him with a cigar in his hand. Unlike say Arnold S. of CA who you see smoking premium cigars regularly. Speaking of which why hasn’t he stood up and said anything?

Anyway, Sen. Rubio is from Tampa FL where the J.C.Newman factory resides and employs about 130 people. A few parts of the hearing were aimed at what would happen to the cigar industry if the FDA has full control. A couple of grievances discussed on the panel included putting health warnings on up to at least 30 percent of the cigar dress boxes as well as on the cigar websites themselves. Another issue was the cost of outrageous fees and regulations to standardize the manufacturing of cigars in order to comply with the FDA; which is admittedly impossible to do because by definition premium cigars represent more artisanal horticulture than mass production. Anymore than original paintings by Picasso and Monet than say printed posters.

On these issues neither the FDA nor the majority of smoke nazis care about our industry; whether it costs more money or covers up our marketing print or whatever. When I listened to Rocky Patel on the Fox News with Tucker Carlson, Rocky spoke about how “more than 300 sets of hands are necessary to make cigars”, “it’s artisanal product and has been around for generations...” so forth and so on; which was also brought up at the aforementioned Small Business meeting. Yes these are some of the issues that will contribute to the after effect of the FDA regulations, but these topics are not where the FDA gets it’s ammunition.

I’ll give you a scenario. Let’s say a mother of 3 is sitting on the bleachers at her child’s sports game, do you think she cares that the cigar industry will be significantly injured or costly regulations to comply with? Of course not, she more than likely does not smoke cigars and therefore does not care. Light a cigar up at one of her child’s games, however, and she will quickly change her mute tone to an outcry on the the life threatening emphysema you are giving to her child from your cancer stick. We know you’re not, the premium tobacco industry knows you’re not, but the mother does not know or care. All she sees is that you are smoking something, of any kind, and could harm her child. That’s all she knows and I don’t blame her. We need to focus our attention on the reasons on why the FDA is cracking down on us, not just the what.

The FDA perpetrated the notion that all tobacco is the same no matter what and if we smoke within a 1000 miles of a child, that child will instantaneously develop respitory problems. Apparently, there is a youth smoking epidemic where 9 year olds are walking into humidors and buying boxes of Arturo Fuentes and smoking them with their buddies on the playground during recess. I’m speaking in sarcastic prose of course, but you get what I’m saying. In the hearing they briefly, and just ever so briefly mention that the FDA is trying to regulate cigars to protect the health of our youth. First of all, if the FDA is genuinely concerned why not just make smoking illegal instead of this nonsense of raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21 across the country and trying to regulate the tobacco at all? It seems like a complete waste of time. Secondly, when the FDA makes a claim so stupid as to say that the youth of today are smoking premium cigars, their own study funded by the FDA mind you, found no evidence to support this claim. They also say that smoking cigars is like smoking a full pack of cigarettes and is addictive. Also disproven by the FDA by saying “Smoking one to two cigars a day has a nill effect on a person’s health”.

Just as a heads up, if you look at the ingredients listing for cigarettes, it is in the neighborhood of over 600 different ingredients. That’s not a typo btw. According to these ingredients include; Benzene2, naphthylamine4, aminobiphenyl, Chromium, Cadmium, Vinyl chloride, Ethylene oxide, Arsenic, Beryllium, Nickel, and Polonium-210. None of which has anything to do with the tobacco, it’s mostly the ingredients used in the chemicals to bleach the paper, that’s where most of the harmful tar and residue come from that is hurting people; not the tobacco leaves.

The ingredients in making a premium hand rolled cigar as as follows: Leaves, and water. That’s it. So whenever a schmuck comes along and says all tobacco products are the same, tell them they are full of crap. Now I see this as a HUGE talking point on why cigars should be exempt from FDA regulations, and yet no one talks about it.

We as rational adults in the premium cigar industry know that’s all B.S. but when it comes to defending our commodity we talk about how it’s family tradition and dress boxes won’t look the same and we don’t smoke cigars the same way cigarette smokers do blah blah blah. That’s all well and good, but none of those responses directly address the bogus FDA claims we hear. The FDA says, “You’re killing the children and ruining our nation!” And we say back “But FDA, if you charge us outrageous fees and regulations our humidors will look different and over 300 set of hands go into making these hand rolled products!”. The FDA does not care about our dress boxes, our humidors, our websites, or our mom and pop shops. We need to grab those bogus claims by the collar and bring them close so they can hear without distractions and say, “Hey FDA, you are without conviction, honor, or intelligence and hold absolutely no evidence from either side of the fence to support your claims. And since you are willingly ignorant and don’t know anything about us, and you should leave us alone!”.

That’s how we should respond! With conviction and a direct approach to their nonsense. I say we take the best FDA representatives of our time and put them on the panel right across of the premium cigar makers and shop owners. Force them to provide evidence to justify their falsehoods and wait for a response in a public forum. If they cannot justify their claims, they should forfeit their stake in the fight. We have to stop giving them more and more ammunition and soft responses and slap them directly in the mouth with the truth.

I’m glad we have lobbyists on our side most of the time, but we need to do a better job of cornering our attackers rather than throwing irrelevant and superfluous answers to the FDA. Stop dancing around the issues and let’s put the FDA right up against the wall and force them to man up or shut up.

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