Tobacco industry braces for expanded oversight of products

Tobacco advocates are pushing for lenient oversight ahead of expected regulations that could treat cigars and other tobacco products like cigarettes.

In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated that sometime in April it would propose a rule to increase its oversight beyond cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Agency spokesperson Jenny Haliski said the new rule "would be to expand our jurisdiction over different categories or products."

Bryan Haynes, the Tobacco Team leader in the law office of Troutman Sanders LLP, which represents the industry, noted some manufacturers are concerned that the government will apply cigarette rules to other products. "A lot of the folks, particularly in the premium cigar industry, are nervous about how FDA might apply a requirement that is suited, if at all, for the cigarette industry," he said. He noted that some cigar companies are rushing their products to market to beat the new regulations.

On March 19, administration officials from the FDA and the White House met with representatives from the Cigar Association of America and lobbyists who have pushed for tobacco issues.

A PowerPoint presentation used at the meeting makes a case for different standards of regulation for cigars and cigarettes. One slide reads "The cigar industry is between 4% and 7% of the cigarette industry. More cigarettes are sold in about 2 weeks than cigars are sold in a full year."

Haynes, who has participated in listening sessions with the FDA, said that the agency has been "very receptive" to concerns from the industry.

In a March editorial for Smokeshop Magazine, Cigar Association of America President Craig Williamson blamed "anti-cigar forces" for "working to force regulation of cigars by the Food and Drug Administration ... in the same manner as cigarettes."  

"The imposition of FDA regulation would severely hamper cigar makers’ development of new blends and could ban events where cigar makers offer samples," Williamson added

The battle lines have already been drawn in Congress. Forty-two members of the House of Representatives have signed onto a bill that would seek to shield "traditional and premium cigars" from regulation by the agency.

Meanwhile, some Senate Democrats have proposed a bill that would tax all tobacco products at the same rate as cigarettes.

The FDA has had authority over tobacco production and distribution since the 2009 signing of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and hand-rolled tobacco are currently under the FDA's purview. Other forms, such as cigars, pipe tobacco and e-cigarettes, are candidates for new oversight.