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Light up that Corona while you still can afford to

July 16, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
]In continuing in the What World am I Living In? file, following on the heels of the death of wholesome teen Archie Andrews who lived in the idealistic comic-book world of Riverdale, I’ve got to wonder what really is wrong with the American psyche?

Because as states out West have opened the door to the spread of legal marijuana across the nation, cigars are about to be declared an out-of-reach commodity, under the guise of health controls.

There is a drive, not through Congress but through the bloated bureaucracy, this time in the form of the Food and Drug Administration that proposed a rule in April to assert jurisdiction over all tobacco products, including all cigars.

The attention has gone toward the weird nicotine delivery system that gives off water vapor inhaled through some steamer thing (The Drummer uses one of these and frankly, I can’t stop making “you look like FDR” jokes at him). But the behind-the rules thing is the cigar hobby, wherein regular guys get to feel like a big shot out on the back deck once a week or once a month or once in awhile, or who gather friends and head off to a cigar party or bar or cigar tasting. These are not the cigars popular with the high school kids, who probably don’t like spending money on a good smoke when just a smoke is all they really want, good or bad.

The FDA realizes that when it bashed cigarettes all but out of existence a few years ago, it kind of missed out on cigars. And while the language being used to back this rule is, of course, all about the kids, it’s going to pummel the decent cigars that can be bought from $3 to $10 per smoke. The intent, of course, is to hammer cheap cigars available at corner stores that can be easily bought by kids. Those cheap cigars often have sweet, fruity flavors that make them more attractive to kids (and the Home Office in Wichita, who still talks about some crappy peach-flavored cheap cigar I bought him a couple summer vacations ago).

No doubt, kids shouldn’t smoke cigars, cigarettes or do snuff, No questions.

Nor should they drive, buy liquor or bungee jump on their own, ride bicycles without helmets, sled down hills at community colleges or eat too many cheeseburgers.

The FDA is accepting public comment through August 8 on its regulatory proposal, noting that it wants to know if all cigars or just certain kinds should be regulated. The rules say cigar products introduced after 2007 would have to undergo, among other things, 5,000 hours of product testing to obtain FDA approval for sale. Makers of good cigars are forever adjusting blends, changing their products based on the tobacco crop and thus are introducing new lines all the time. It’s a craft product, like beer brewed in microbreweries or fine wines, forever evolving.

Congress is, of course, getting involved. I’d assume that after they’re done messing up the country for the week that a few of those empty suits like to gather at some D.C. watering hole and light up a few fine tobacco products and enjoy that feeling of wealth and power that comes from being lobbied all week. I’d also assume lobbyists and those who give big to own a congressman or two like to light up a celebratory Churchill every now and then.

Indeed folks are stepping up from both sides of the smoke-filled room to push one way or another. The FDA proposes it would exempt “premium” and “large” cigars, though the level set to exempt those “premium” cigars would be $10 per cigar. So it means tobacconists could keep doing their work, but the bulk of their buyers would be those with $10 bills to burn. Perfect for those who buy legislators -- er, contribute to campaigns -- but not so good for the rest of us who just like to light up a good cigar on the deck on Sunday afternoon.

Congress has a couple bills saying “uh-no, not so fast.” Problem is, those bills could be interpreted to allow some machine-made, cheap, fruity cigars popular with the kids to be exempt from regs, too. With some backing from the cigar industry, a letter from Congress went to the FDA in December, noting that the cigar hobby is an adult thing, like collecting fine wines, largely only occasionally smoked and enjoyed in celebratory or social settings, according to a Reuters story.

The White House has stepped in, with the Office of Management and Budget, removing language about how the new rules would prevent people from taking up cigar smoking and thus have tremendous health benefits.

And the health lobby isn’t sitting still allowing people to describe the simple joys of a good cigar, either.

It’s probably all over but the shouting, and the filling of my humidor with 25 still-obtainable dark-wrapped sticks to be kept in storage for 25 really good days during the 20 or 30 good years I figure I've got left, but the comment period is open until August 8. If you’re so inclined, you may weigh in. There is a petition available at the WhiteHouse.gov at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/not-allow-fda-regulate-premium-cigars/BKspSSnN, as well on www.cigarrights.org. (Yes, like the NRA, cigar folks need a lobby now.)

Here’s hoping that cigar folks don’t end up like schoolkids eating whole wheat while the president goes to Five Guys. I’d also hate to see some lobbyists and congressmen lighting up a bad $10 future cigar when they could have bought a really good one for about $3.25 now.

 
 

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