By Glynn Loope, Executive Director CRA, and Cody Carden, Director of Communications CRA
Over the course of the last four sessions of Congress, a message has been told, coalitions have been built, and allies have been recruited all in an effort to protect the simple enjoyment of a great cigar.
You would think this would be an easy task. After all, it is about solitude and camaraderie among friends who are essentially enjoying a product that is a creation of nature – assembled by skilled artisan hands.
However, as we all know there have been and always will be forces at work, whether it be the nanny state or political opposition wanting to interfere with not only your enjoyment of that cigar, but wanting to cause economic havoc on small businesses across America and instability throughout the cigar producing nations of Latin America.
The tide, however, is turning. Through a concerted strategy with our industry allies we now have new opportunities to not only tell our story, but to obtain tangible relief from the bureaucratic malaise that plagues Washington, DC.
It all essentially began on September 14, 2017, when for the first time the U.S. House of Representatives adopted budget language for a premium cigar exemption from burdensome regulations as proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”). That moment, was the culmination of not only the current 143 Members of Congress that are supporters and sponsors of such language, but also the result of the over 289 existing and former Members of Congress that have helped carry that message.
Then as we entered the new year, one of the most significant moments in the history of our fight, occurred on February 27, 2018, when Carlito Fuente, Jorge Padron, Robert Levin, and Rocky Patel representing Cigar Rights of America, and Greg Zimmerman of Pennsylvania and Craig Cass of North Carolina representing the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association, made an unprecedented presentation to the new FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and his staff, on the true nature of the premium cigar industry. In the presentation, these industry leaders explained why the current regulations are unfair, why they are overly burdensome, and why the FDA’s entire approach far surpasses the congressional intent of the tobacco control act.
To take our message to a national audience, on March 19, 2018, Rocky Patel, on behalf of Cigar Rights of America appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News Channel. In the course of just a little over five minutes, Patel was able to capture our arguments and plead for our relief a seven digit television audience, in a segment that now has over 312,000 online views. This appearance was a unique moment in the effort to protect the premium cigar industry.
Clearly, the message from February 27th presentation on the impact of these regulations to the Trump Administration, did not fall on deaf ears. On March 23, 2018, consistent with a promise made by FDA Commissioner Gottlieb on July 28, 2017, FDA published what is known as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) exclusively on the questions surrounding premium handmade cigars. This opportunity to tell our story, while not being placed in the mix with other tobacco products, is a moment to truly differentiate the uniqueness of premium handmade cigars from other tobacco products. And, while the various premium cigar trade associations are developing their technical comments to FDA, you too will have an opportunity to tell FDA why their approach needs to change.
Within the same week of the ANPRM release, on March 28th, CRA and IPCPR joined yet again for a presentation to the Trump Administration. Bill Paley, owner of La Palina Cigars, and John Anderson, owner of W. Curtis Draper Tobacconist of Washington, DC, made a presentation to the White House Domestic Policy Council, which is charged with regulatory input on matters of national economic significance, and will play a key role in fulfilling the Trump Administration’s highlighted commitment in the Unified Regulatory Agenda to address the premium cigar regulatory question.
Despite the significant action in 2018 with the Executive Branch, Capitol Hill has still been a focus. Early this year, the House Freedom Caucus, as a coalition of “limited government representatives,” included a regulatory exemption for premium cigars in their annual agenda…this is coupled with the decision by the Trump Administration, through the FDA, to grant a three-year reprieve from many of the burdensome substantial equivalence requirements for premium cigars.
While it is easy for any of us to be concerned about the “ways of Washington,” these days…especially with the very public dysfunction of congress and constant state of partisan bickering, we can at least look to these tangible steps of momentum that have been made possible by the recognition that the regulatory state has gone too far.
We have said on numerous occasions, in this column, that this is a three-front war taking place at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and a courthouse in between. But it is only through your voice, to your members of the House and Senate that this critical juncture has been made possible. For the first time in history, nearly a half million Cigar Voters have let their voices be heard through petition campaigns to Congress and two presidents.
While we often understand the frustration with constantly having to reinforce this message to politicians that you may or may not believe to be listening, we can say beyond any doubt that your commitment to this process has made a difference. However, I am afraid we have to say, welcome to the new normal.
Whether it is objecting to federal regulations of historic proportions, a statewide smoking ban that could destroy your favorite shops and lounges, or a tax proposal by your local city council, it is now more important than ever that you make your commitment as a cigar voter a permanent part of your enjoyment of a premium handmade cigar.