AAFP to House: Don't Exempt Cigars From FDA Oversight

Academy Joins Other Groups to Oppose Legislation Protecting 'Premium,' Flavored Cigars

February 23, 2017 04:53 pm News Staff

On Feb. 15, the AAFP joined more than 40 other health care and advocacy organizations in signing on to a letter(3 page PDF) to House members, urging them to oppose H.R. 564(www.congress.gov) and any appropriations policy riders that would exempt some cigars, including flavored cigars, from regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA).

The letter said simply: "The FDA should retain oversight authority over all tobacco products, including all cigars."

Introduced Jan. 13 by Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., H.R. 564 would prohibit the FDA from promulgating public health protections related to what the cigar industry calls "traditional large and premium cigars." Specifically, the bill would exempt from FDA oversight some machine-made cigars, including those costing as little as $1, and could allow some flavored cigars to qualify for an exemption.

A similar policy rider was included in the House Appropriations Committee's fiscal year (FY) 2017 agriculture appropriations bill.  

Story highlights
  • On Feb. 15, the AAFP signed on to a letter to House members, urging them to oppose a bill that would exempt some cigars, including flavored cigars, from regulation under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA).
  • Introduced on Jan. 13 by Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., H.R. 564 would prohibit the FDA from promulgating public health protections related to what the cigar industry calls "traditional large and premium cigars."
  • The letter's signatories contend that H.R. 564 would undermine the science-based process created by the TCA for determining the appropriate level of oversight of tobacco products.

The letter's signatories contend that H.R. 564 would undermine the science-based process created by the TCA for determining the appropriate level of oversight of tobacco products.

Tobacco Control Act History

According to the groups, Congress gave the FDA authority to oversee the manufacture, sale and marketing of all tobacco products, including cigars, under the TCA in 2009. That act explicitly defines tobacco products as "any product made or derived from tobacco that is intended for human consumption," a definition that clearly encompasses cigars.

"While the TCA immediately applied all of the FDA's new authorities to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, it established a process for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to assert jurisdiction over other tobacco products, including cigars, and determine which requirements are appropriate for the protection of public health," said the letter.

Following a multiyear scientific review and public comment process, the FDA published a final rule in May 2016 that enables the agency to regulate cigars and additional tobacco products that weren't previously in its purview.

The letter pointed out that during the rulemaking process, the FDA looked at excluding "premium" cigars from its oversight. However, after completing its scientific review, the agency concluded there was no public health justification for exempting any type of cigars, because they all pose significant health risks.

Research Against Cigar Use

The problems that stem from leaving cigars unregulated include their increased popularity among adolescents. The letter highlighted data from national surveys supporting this surge in use.

For example, the CDC's 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found more high-school boys now smoke cigars (14 percent) than cigarettes (about 12 percent). Also in 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said each day, more than 2,100 kids younger than 18 try smoking cigars for the first time.

"Inexpensive and flavored cigars such as 'sticky-sweet,' watermelon, 'wild rush,' 'tropical' and chocolate are exactly the type of cigars attractive to young people," said the groups in their letter.

As for general evidence against cigar smoking, the letter referenced the National Cancer Institute, which has stated that cigar smoking causes cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus and lungs, as well as noting that cigar smokers also are at increased risk for aortic aneurysm.

Additionally, daily cigar smokers -- especially those who inhale -- have increased risks for heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Call to Action

The letter concluded by asserting that no tobacco product deserves exemption from FDA oversight "and certainly not inexpensive and flavored cigars."

The groups pointed out that tobacco manufacturers have historically modified their products to avoid public health protections and/or attain lower tax rates.

"We are concerned that the number of cigars exempted by H.R. 564 and the policy rider included in the House FY 2017 agriculture appropriations bill would increase over time as cigar manufacturers modify their products or change their manufacturing processes to qualify for the exemption," said the letter.

"Our organizations strongly urge you to protect public health and kids and reduce the health and economic burden of tobacco-caused disease by opposing H.R. 564 and any similar appropriations policy riders."

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