FDA Struggles To Regulate The Thriving Flavored Cigar Market

Cigar sales have grown almost 40 percent since 2008. Creative Commons

Cigarette smoking has been on the decline for years now, but as some people turn to e-cigarettes, others turn to cigars. For a long time, regulators didn’t focus on cigars. This has allowed the market to thrive over the past few years by appealing to smokers in ways cigarettes did not — many cigars are cheap and they come in a variety of flavors. 

The 2009 Family Prevention and Tobacco Control Act banned virtually every flavor of cigarettes except menthol. Its purpose was to discourage youth under 18 years old from buying cigarettes. The law also called for cigarette companies to limit the color and design of packaging, and also to display larger health warnings.

Read More: Teens Ditching Cigarettes but Tobacco Consumption Problem Remains

Although teenage smoking declined 33 percent last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that tobacco use in other forms grew by 123 percent, which could mean that cigarettes are just being switched for other, cheaper forms, especially since cigar and loose tobacco sales increased to 10 percent of all tobacco sold in 2011, from only three percent in 2000.

Flavored Cigars Growing Popularity

But the tobacco companies may have found a loophole when dealing with these new regulations. Although they applied to cigarettes, the regulations made no mention of cigars, and left it up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use its judgment on whether or not to regulate them.

Since then, convenience stores’ inventories have become loaded with a slew of colorful wrappers adorning various flavors of both small and large cigars, including grape, strawberry, pineapple, chocolate, and many more, according to The New York Times. On top of this, many of them are cheap — three for 99 cents in some places — appealing to many smokers who can’t always afford cigarettes.

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“The 20th century was the cigarette century, and we worked very hard to address that,” Gregory N. Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health, told the Times. “Now the 21st century is about multiple tobacco products. They’re cheap. They’re flavored. And some of them you can use anywhere.”

Flavored cigars account for more than half of all convenience store and gas station cigar sales, Christine Delnevo, a tobacco researcher at Rutgers University, told the Times, adding that their sales increased almost 40 percent since 2008.

But some people believe the increased sales could be attributed to marijuana use. Some people use the cigar wrapper, which is a tobacco leaf, to roll the marijuana into what’s called a blunt — named after the cigar brand Phillies Blunt. One study found that about a fifth of 5,000 middle and high school students were using cigar wrappers to roll blunts.

How The FDA Is Discouraging Cigars 

The FDA has begun sending out notices to tobacco companies, warning them about passing off roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco, which is a way of avoiding taxes and FDA regulation since the two types have two different tax codes.

“The giant has finally awoken and hopefully will do its job,” Ron Bernstein, chief executive of cigarette producer Liggett Vector Brands, told the Times. He’s worried his company is being subjected to unfair competition from cigar makers.

Read More: E-Cigarettes Entering Mainstream With Sales Nearing $1B: What’s The Future For Smokeless E-Cigs?

If the FDA does succeed in regulating the largely unregulated cigar market, many people might be turned off of cigars, which are often harsher to smoke unflavored.

“If they take away the flavor, it would be a problem,” Trayvon Henderson, 19, told the Times. “I’d probably stop smoking them. Or maybe I’d go back to cigarettes.”