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Tobacco policy shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all

Premium cigars aren’t contributing to the rise in teen tobacco use so why should this niche industry be penalized?

Premium cigars do not pose the same health risks as other tobacco products, Pearce and Habursky write. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Premium cigars do not pose the same health risks as other tobacco products, Pearce and Habursky write. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — Tobacco policy is back again on the main stage of political discourse, thanks to the rise in youth usage of vaping and e-cigarettes. We recognize the need to address adolescent nicotine addiction prompted by this new popularity and the public health effects.

However, not all tobacco products are the same. Unequivocally, premium cigars are not part of this youth access issue. Data recorded by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration in their Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, or PATH, study asserts that the average age of people enjoying their first premium cigar is 30.

Nonetheless, anti-tobacco groups are seizing the moment to put further restrictions on all tobacco products. That includes premium cigars, which do not have addictive qualities and do not pose the same health risks as other tobacco products. In fact, the PATH study acknowledges that the average premium cigar enthusiast is on the same health risk continuum as a nonsmoker.

Tobacco policy should not be formulated based on the emotional appeals of health groups looking to capitalize off real policy issues such as youth access to certain products. Generalizations may help fundraising efforts, but they do not result in sound public policy tailored to specific products or rooted in scientific research. Understanding the complexity of tobacco policy is important as is recognizing that targeted regulation is necessary based on product-specific factors and characteristics.

Under the guise of tobacco control, the goal posts keep moving for many public health groups to ban all types of tobacco or to create a regulatory framework that would make it impossible for many small business retailers and manufacturers to operate. The current debate on tobacco policy shouldn’t be an open invitation to layer on new requirements for all tobacco product types. Policymakers should consider retail jobs and small businesses in the premium cigar industry, as well as the pertinent health factors based on product type, when developing new enactments.

Premium cigars are unique artisanal products, enjoyed by enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds and across the political spectrum. This eclectic mix of people also values their personal liberty to enjoy premium cigars. We hope that can continue for many years to come and that Congress and regulators will consider the complexity of the tobacco industry and take measures to curb youth access without harming stakeholders that do not have a history of marketing to children or having their products used by them.

A one-size-fits-all approach does not work for small businesses and the at-large premium cigar industry. The FDA’s own evidence supports this point. Effective tobacco policy should be rooted in research, laser-focused to address real problems. It should also ensure that unintended consequences from bad policy don’t destroy small businesses, jobs, a major tax base and consumer interests.

Scott Pearce is the executive director of the Premium Cigar Association, which represents the interests of the premium cigar and pipe industry. Joshua Habursky is the director of federal affairs for the Premium Cigar Association.

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