House Appropriations Bill Helps Tobacco Companies Target Kids by Exempting Many Cigars from FDA Oversight – And Would Hold Critical Tobacco Regulations Hostage

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 14, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – In a special interest giveaway of the worst kind, a House Appropriations bill approved in subcommittee today helps tobacco companies target kids and harms the nation’s health by exempting many cigars from oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even worse, this provision would block the FDA from implementing a long-overdue rule to regulate all tobacco products – including electronic cigarettes and cigars – unless certain cigars are exempted. This provision essentially holds children’s health hostage to protect the cigar industry.

We urge rejection of this shameful provision, which is included in the House appropriations bill that funds the Department of Agriculture, FDA and other agencies. There is absolutely no public health reason for this provision. America’s kids will pay the price if it is approved.

The FDA is finalizing a proposed rule to establish oversight of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars. This rule is urgently needed because these products have been marketed using tactics and sweet flavors that appeal to kids, with youth use of e-cigarettes skyrocketing and high school boys now smoking cigars at the same rate as cigarettes (10.8 percent for cigars and 10.6 percent for cigarettes, according to the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey). Congress should allow the FDA to move forward based on science and without political interference.

It is critical that the FDA regulate all tobacco products in order to protect public health and prevent kids from using them. No tobacco product should be exempt. Cigar smoke is composed of the same toxic and cancer-causing constituents found in cigarette smoke, and cigar smoking causes cancer of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus and lung. Cigar smokers are also at increased risk for an aortic aneurysm. All tobacco products – including all cigars – should be subject to common-sense, science-based oversight by the FDA to protect public health.

Make no mistake: The proposed cigar exemption will make it easier for tobacco companies to target kids. To protect kids, Congress banned flavored cigarettes in 2009. Because cigars are not yet regulated by the FDA, manufacturers have been able to market cigars in an array of sweet flavors, such as strawberry, grape, watermelon and chocolate.

The new cigar exemption creates yet another loophole that tobacco companies will surely exploit to keep targeting kids. While the provision claims to exempt “large and premium cigars,” it could also exempt some inexpensive, flavored cigars that are widely used by kids, and it is an open invitation to tobacco companies to manipulate and modify their products so they qualify for this exemption. The result will be to exempt a broad range of cigars, including some that are candy and fruit-flavored and appeal to young people.

In passing the bipartisan 2009 law that gave the FDA oversight over tobacco, Congress rightly recognized that all tobacco products are harmful and should be subject to science-based oversight. It also concluded that these public health decisions should be removed from the political process and made by an independent agency with the expertise to evaluate how best to keep tobacco products out of the hands of kids and minimize the death and disease they cause. This cigar provision is also entirely unnecessary because the 2009 law gives the FDA considerable flexibility in determining how to regulate different tobacco products, including different types of cigars, and allows the FDA to consider differences in use and health risks.

Members of Congress should reject this and any other provision that would weaken FDA oversight of all tobacco products. They should protect America’s kids and health, not the tobacco industry.