Bill Would Make FDA Cigar Ban Go Up in Smoke
Sending cigars to troops in combat zones is a tradition that stretches back to at least U.S. civil war, long before the FDA itself was founded, critics say, and the sudden ban is seen as shocking. Now Congress is considering a move to roll back the FDA's new regulation.
“U.S. soldiers serving deployments across the globe enjoy care packages sent by charitable organizations and grateful communities back home. These care packages soon will be missing a popular item if Congress does not act: cigars,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat who represents Tampa, Fla. She recently introduced House Resolution 5955, the "Restore Charitable Contributions of Premium Cigars to the Troops Act." The legislation would allow non-profits to make charitable gifts "of traditional large and premium cigars to members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.” Castor's measure would allow donations of cigars to troops through nonprofits that serve soldiers as well as veterans. The measure applies only to large and premium cigars, not cigarettes or small cigars that resemble cigarettes.
The proposal has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. A hearing has not been scheduled.
The FDA insists that its regulation emerges from law adopted by Congress in 2009. Michael Felberbaum, the FDA's spokesman for tobacco-related issues, said the ban on charitable distribution of tobacco products is a direct result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The actual text of the law is silent on the issue of sending free cigars to the armed forces, but, the FDA says, the ban is a logical extension of that law.
FDA press officer Felberbaum said the FDA does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation. But he did explain the agency's interpretation of the 2009 law.
“This provision applies to any product that meets the definition of a ‘tobacco product’ – including cigars,” Felberbaum said. “The prohibition on charitable distribution, however, does not restrict an individual's ability to give a gift (such as a care package) to an individual family member or friend who is in the military.”
Castor said troops have been receiving donated cigars from companies such as Thompson Cigar Co. in Tampa as well as nonprofits such as Cigars for Warriors and Support the Troops.
Operation: Cigars for Warriors, a nonprofit charity, has been sending cigars for more than four years to U.S. troops deployed overseas. The organization’s director of operations, Robert Allan, said there will be a lack of inventory to fulfill requests for donations during the upcoming holiday season because the new regulation “appears to make donations by manufacturers impermissible, and by some interpretations, illegal.”
Cigars for Warriors accepts donations from manufacturers to send approximately 25,000 cigars to deployed troops each month. The organization has sought clarification about the new rules and is seeking assistance from Congress to obtain an exemption for cigar donations for service members.
Three cigar associations – Cigar Association of America, International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association and Cigar Rights of America - jointly filed a lawsuit on July 15 in the District of Columbia asking that, among other things, cigar samples and donations be exempted from the new regulations.
Felberbaum said that some units and military branches may further restrict what can be included in care packages, including some prohibitions on tobacco that may be part of the Department of Defense’s initiative against tobacco use.
The FDA announced the new regulations for all tobacco products in a May 5 statement before they went into effect Aug. 8.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a rule extending its authority to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco, among others,” the FDA statement said. “This historic rule helps implement the bipartisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 and allows the FDA to improve public health and protect future generations from the dangers of tobacco use.”