No Ban Needed on Flavored Cigars

Inflation is at 40-year highs, while gas and food prices skyrocket. The nation is tipping toward recession. Our border is out of control. Criminals are rampaging our streets. Drug overdoses are at near-records.

America’s foreign policy is collapsing after embarrassing slaps in the face by oil producers. The world on the brink of Armageddon, by Joe Biden’s own accounting.

You’d think your federal government would find better things to do with taxpayers’ money than to build an army of nanny state nags to harass citizens and deprive them of a pleasant and relatively harmless pastime. 

You would be wrong.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is fresh off fiascos involving botched COVID testing, internal division over efficacy and potential dangers of COVID vaccines and boosters, and an agency-induced baby formula shortage. It is mired in controversies over approval of a questionable Alzheimer drug and an embarrassingly flawed e-cigarette approval process under review by a federal court.

But nevertheless—the FDA is intent on wiping out flavors in cigars. Such a ban is not only completely unnecessary, but could be counterproductive to stated public health goals.

First, the unnecessary part: A flavor ban requires scientific evidence that it is appropriate to protect the public health. As it turns out, there is very little evidence at all as to cigar use and health effects. What little evidence exists shows that cigars are enjoyed in moderation by a small cohort of adults, most of whom don’t even inhale.

Which means cigar consumers experience little of the risk of tobacco-related health issues. Yet the FDA struggles mightily to prove that flavored cigars drive initiation of, and resulting mortality from, cigars by endlessly extrapolating from outdated and flawed data from a handful of local bans.

The flavor ban is also unnecessary in terms of reducing the supposedly “substantial” youth usage of flavored cigars. In fact, youth usage is already plummeting. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health puts 30-day overall cigar usage among 12- to 17-year-olds at less than 1 percent, and the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) showed a more than 45 percent one-year decline among high-schoolers. NYTS also shows the usage of flavored tobacco is even more miniscule—less than half of this already all-time low consumption.

Which brings us to the “counterproductive” part: banning flavors will almost certainly boost an already substantial illicit market in tobacco products, including cigars. Which means that the apparent success in driving down youth consumption resulting from the 2020 hike in the legal age to 21 for tobacco purchases—a restriction enforced at retail—could be entirely undone.

The rule will also harm a flourishing industry and destroy small businesses and jobs. The Cigar Association of America reports that 2021 cigar sales “soared to record numbers.” The growth pattern especially reflects premium cigars—many characterized by flavors—and often finely crafted and sold by minority entrepreneurs.

FDA acknowledges that the vast majority of manufacturers of flavored cigars or of both flavored and unflavored cigars, as well as affected wholesalers and convenience stores, are small businesses, most with fewer than 10 employees. And the nation’s nearly 150,000 convenience stores in particular, a source of entry-level jobs already under pressure from falling tobacco sales, ring up some $4 billion in cigar sales.

FDA should withdraw this unnecessary, destructive, and restrictive rule and focus instead on enforcement of age limits on tobacco sales. Instead of torturing data to justify a fully unsupportable action, maybe it should publish accurate data on cigars’ low risk to empower adult cigar consumers to make educated decisions related to their own health and enjoyment of a legal product. Just a thought.

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About Rick Manning

Rick Manning is president of Americans for Limited Government in Fairfax, Virginia.

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images