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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two years after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned flavored cigarettes, a group of five Democratic senators are banding together and calling on the agency to now expand the ban to include cigars.
In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg dated yesterday, U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) stated that flavored cigars are enticing teenagers to smoke even as they turn away from cigarettes.
"Congress helped protect young people from the harmful effects of tobacco by banning flavored cigarettes. But as youth cigarette use has fallen, cigars have become more popular among adolescents. In some states, cigar use surpasses cigarette use among high school males," the legislators wrote.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which President Obama signed in June 2009, gives the FDA regulatory control over tobacco. In the fall of that year, the agency instituted a ban on all cigarettes that contain flavors other than tobacco and menthol. The FDA was subsequently sued by Kretek International, the maker of Djarum clove cigars. However, the cigar manufacturer withdrew the legal challenge in early 2010 following statements by the agency indicating it will only take enforcement action against products that meet the legal definition of a cigarette.
"The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gives FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products and their flavorings, but FDA has not asserted its authority over cigars," the legislators wrote to Hamburg. "On July 7, the Department of Health and Human Services indicated in its semi-annual regulatory agenda that FDA intended to issue regulation in October of this year. Since FDA missed its October deadline, an estimated two billion cigars, cigarillos and little cigars have been sold without appropriate regulation. We urge FDA to immediately close the current regulatory loopholes and prohibit flavored cigars in interest of public health."
For the cigar industry's part, the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association has been urging its members to sign a petition supporting two congressional bills -- H.R. 1639 and its companion, S. 1461. Both measures are known as the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2011.
"Premium cigars are not like cigarettes and should not be regulated as if they were," the petition states, adding that stricter regulations would "devastate" local cigar shops across the country.