Cigar Association of America President David M. Ozgo is warning government officials to be careful about what they wish for in seeking to impose a national ban on flavored cigars.
“The economic impact is one thing, but just as important is the fact that what you’re doing is taking away an adult’s right to choose,” Ozgo told The Center Square. “When President [Barack] Obama passed legislation in 2009 regulating tobacco, he stressed the idea was not to take away an adult’s right to use tobacco if that’s what they choose.”
With flavored cigars accounting for as much as 47% of industry sales as recently as 2021, Ozgo argues the economic impact done to the industry by the passage of such legislation would be just as disruptive, pegging projected losses of nearly $4 billion in retail sales, over 16,000 jobs and $840 million in wages, along with an estimated $750 million in federal, state and local tax revenues.
The Federal Drug Administration is justifying the ban by arguing flavors in cigars “increase appeal” to youth.
“The proposed rules would help prevent children from becoming the next generation of smokers and help adult smokers quit,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement on FDA’s website. “Additionally, the proposed rules represent an important step to advance health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities.”
Ozgo counters that children already are barred from purchasing tobacco products such as cigars.
“It’s already illegal for a person under 21 to purchase any tobacco,” he said, adding that the government’s own data shows that less than 1% of youth actually consume flavored cigars.
“If it’s already illegal and no younger people smoke flavored cigars, what’s the public benefit in doing something like this,” he added. “We’re hoping that the FDA this time will consider all the evidence out there. They previously tried to regulate premium cigars and we sued and that has been going on for six years. In his initial ruling, the judge said the FDA ignored the evidence pattern.”
As for the flavored ban proposal, by Ozgo’s account the government has already received more than 70,000 comments on the issue, the overwhelming majority of them being opposed to the move.
“This is a solution in search of a problem,” he said, adding that people don’t use cigars the same way as other tobacco products.
“When you look at indicators of nicotine addiction, they’re not the same as say cigarettes,” he said. “Really, people smoke cigars for different reasons. With cigars, it’s just something you do to relax and enjoy. We always say cigars are more of a hobby than a habit; you don’t even smoke one every day.”
With the FDA having first proposed the ban last May, Ozgo said the CAA doesn’t expect the government to make a final decision on the issue before the end of the year.