Charities can no longer send gift cigars to U.S. soldiers stationed abroad, due to an August ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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