New Research Contradicts Flavored Cigar Ban Rationale

As we await the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) Characterizing Flavor Standard for Cigars, the emergence of new FDA-funded research challenges the agency’s justification for the regulation and prevailing assumptions asserted by anti-tobacco interest groups. 

Flavored cigars have long been under scrutiny for their alleged appeal to younger individuals and their potential to mask the taste of tobacco. The Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the limited authority to primarily address the issue of youth initiation of tobacco products, which has been the premise for a litany of new – and demonstrably overreaching – regulations. Yet, with the pending rule on Characterizing Flavors in Cigars, we see a shift into “health equity,” whereby the rationale rests upon an unsubstantiated notion that the cigar industry targets minority groups with flavored products. 

Neither the agency nor the anti-tobacco non-profit organizations calling for the flavor ban have credible data on youth usage of flavored cigars nor evidence of product targeting specific groups. Therefore, they couple youth access with the “healthy equity” buzzword for a better political narrative that is in vogue. However, purchasing patterns and consumer profiles show that legal adults consume flavored cigars, especially in the age-gated Premium Cigar Association (PCA) membership. 

The recent study, “Exploring the Presence and Type of Premium Cigar Retailers with Neighborhood Sociodemographic Correlates in the United States, 2019–2021,” examines the Premium Cigar Association membership to make the case for “health equity” reasoning for the flavored cigar ban. PCA membership predominately sells non-flavored premium cigars, but most association members also carry aromatic or infused cigars such as bourbon barrel-aged cigars. 

A central point of contention revolves around the assertion that flavored cigars are intentionally marketed to minority communities, exploiting alleged preferences for flavored cigars. According to available empirical data, most flavored cigar products are not disproportionately available in minority neighborhoods, but the study documents “higher odds of a store being a cigar bar or lounge for retailers located in neighborhoods with a higher proportion of Black residents, which may contribute to inequities in tobacco-related disease and disability.” Being a cigar bar requires patrons to be over 21, where adults enjoy cigars and spirits frequently paired together to enhance flavor and experience. This data indicates that black residents are more likely to purchase these products in an entirely age-gated venue, which strikes at the cord of the notion of youth usage and availability. The findings disrupt the idea that the tobacco industry systematically targets specific racial or ethnic groups with flavored cigar offerings.

This study aims to persuade people to believe there is a health equity gap because of the indoor “second-hand” smoke connected to cigar bars or lounges, which have advanced ventilation systems often required by state regulations or local zoning ordinances. This diversity within the cigar industry challenges the stereotype that flavored cigars are a monolithic entity aimed solely at a particular demographic. 

As the rule on flavored cigars moves through the regulatory process, navigating the intricacies of such a decision is imperative. Advocates argue that banning flavored cigars is a protective measure, shielding vulnerable populations from potential allure. For several reasons, this public policy is myopic. First, the choice of legal-aged adults to consume a legal product in an age-gated environment should be an essential factor to consider. Second, the repugnant premise of this regulation is insulting to minority communities as it rests on a belief that these groups cannot make informed decisions for themselves and that the government must come in to make the decision for them. This is an insult to the diversity and inclusiveness of cigar shops, lounges, and bars across the country that bring people together across race, creed, socio-economic status, religion, and political affiliation. This diversity within the cigar industry challenges the stereotype that flavored cigars are a monolithic entity aimed solely at a particular demographic. 

The PCA believes that legal adults should be able to make informed decisions and that the characterizing flavored cigar rule runs afoul with this core belief and should be withdrawn. The Center for Tobacco Products is listening to prohibitionists that continue to layer scant research and oversimplified arguments to make their case against all tobacco products with no regard for adult consumer choice, Congressional intent for the Tobacco Control Act, nor the small businesses that employ people and offer these products. Plus, they have not even come close to meeting the burden of proof in demonstrating the use of flavored cigars as correlating, let alone causing, any negative population health outcomes. And, if it were truly about youth access, why hasn’t the Center of Tobacco Products promulgated a rule on Tobacco 21, which Congress authorized?

The agency is failing in an area where it could cooperate with retailers instead of prioritizing poor public policy. Why did the agency couple this rule with menthol cigarettes? Perhaps because, as a standalone regulation, the flavored cigar rule doesn’t have the support of Congress or the general public. 

The study that dives into the data surrounding this topic can be found here:

Article by Scott Pearce, executive director, and Joshua Habursky, head of Government Affairs, at Premium Cigar Association (PCA).