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FDA to re-examine premium cigars as it overhauls tobacco regulation

  • The FDA is taking another look at premium cigars in a move that anti-tobacco groups fear could weaken regulations.
  • It's the latest push under Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to undertake a sweeping overall of tobacco and nicotine regulation.
  • The FDA recently took the first step in lowering the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. It also said it's seeking information on the role flavors, including menthol, play in attracting people to tobacco products and alternatives like e-cigarettes.
A woman smokes a cigar during the XVI Havana Cigar Festival in Havana.
Adalberto Roque | AFP | Getty Images
A woman smokes a cigar during the XVI Havana Cigar Festival in Havana.

The Food and Drug Administration is taking another look at premium cigars in a move that anti-tobacco groups fear could weaken regulations.

The agency is seeking guidance on how it should regulate premium cigars. It expanded the definition of tobacco products in 2016 and in doing so, brought premium cigars within its oversight. With Friday's request, the FDA is asking for more information.

In its advance notice of proposed rulemaking published Friday, the FDA says it's seeking feedback on how to define premium cigars, how these products are used and any public health considerations. It wants data and research results that weren't previously submitted.

The FDA also wants to understand whether premium cigars pose different risks or are used in different patterns compared with other combustible tobacco products, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

"As we continue to move forward with this multi-year roadmap aimed at significantly reducing tobacco-related disease and death, we're aware of the ongoing interest into how 'premium' cigars fit into our policy framework," he said.

Robin Koval, the head of an anti-tobacco group, Truth Initiative, called re-examining premium cigar regulation "a huge step backwards and a waste of time." Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers urged the FDA not to revise the rule that allowed the agency to regulate premium cigars and other tobacco products.

"There is no public health justification for exempting any tobacco product from FDA oversight," Myers said in a statement. "Instead, the FDA should move forward with several critical actions to accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use."

One premium cigar company said it welcomed the news.

"We remain optimistic that the premium cigar industry will ultimately obtain relief — through legislation, litigation, or regulation — from the crippling components of FDA regulation," Drew Newman, general counsel of J.C. Newman Cigar Company, said in a statement.

The FDA announced its comprehensive plan last summer. The agency has adopted the idea that nicotine products live on a continuum of risk, with conventional cigarettes being the most harmful and alternatives like e-cigarettes possibly being less risky.

Last week, the FDA took the first step in lowering the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. Earlier this week, the agency said it would examine the role flavors, including menthol, play in attracting young people to tobacco products and adult smokers in switching to products that are potentially less harmful than cigarettes.