Wednesday, September 23, 2009

FDA Bans Flavored Cigarettes

An unintentional boost for cigar sales?

When is a cigar more than just a cigar? When its appearance allows it to circumvent the intent of the Food and Drug Administration’s first ruling related to cigarettes, that’s when.

In its first official ruling since Congress passed legislation giving the agency authority to regulate tobacco (see my earlier post), the FDA banned so-called flavored cigarettes. Cigarette makers can no longer add vanilla, clove, chocolate, or any other fruit or candy flavors to their product. Menthol, for now, is exempt from the ban.

FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that 90 percent of adults who smoke began doing so as children. The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids agreed, calling flavored cigarettes “starter products” for young smokers in a Dow Jones Newswires report by Jennifer Corbett Dooren.

By law, the agency cannot ban regular cigarettes outright. However, as Gardiner Harris reported in the September 23 New York Times, “the legislation left some details vague. For instance, the agency is required to ban flavored cigarettes, but the law did not clearly define what constituted a cigarette."

Huh? As it turns out, a cigarette is in the mind of the beholder. The FDA maintains that the ban applies to all cigarette-type tobacco products, including those that are “labeled as cigars or as some other product.” A spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids agreed: “The FDA demonstrated that they’re serious about enforcing the ban on flavored cigarettes, and serious about preventing tobacco companies from circumventing that ban,” according to the New York Times article.

Not so fast, argued Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America. Sharp told the Times that the ban clearly did not apply to cigars: “We feel this should go a long way to clearing up any confusion in the marketplace.”

Well, not exactly. An exasperated spokesperson for cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds, also quoted in the article, said: “It’s hard to understand. We need clear and timely guidance so all of us can work together so that we can understand what we need to be doing.”

What about the small brown cigarillos sold by an R.J. Reynolds subsidiary?

“They are not cigarettes,” the spokesperson said.

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