The head of Cigars International Inc. in Bethlehem said if the FDA decides to exert its regulatory power, it could put cigar retailers out of business. – and, he noted 50 percent of handmade, premium cigars are made right here in Pennsylvania.
<p.U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey joined William Murphy, chief operating officer of Cigars International, and leaders of several other cigar businesses at a press conference in the company's warehouse yesterday to lobby for new legislation that would exempt large or premium cigars from FDA regulations and FDA user fees.
“The whole industry is waiting to exhale,” said Arthur Zaretsky, president of Famous Smoke Shop in Forks Township. “If they decide to ban non-face to face transactions, I’m pretty much done.”
Murphy said Cigars International added over 90 jobs since 2010. But he said the FDA regulations have slowed Cigars International’s investment in infrastructure.
Zaretsky said the FDA could possibly eliminate all advertisements for cigars and could require a high degree of chemical testing, which could possibly cost businesses as much as $200,000.
Toomey said the FDA legislation to regulate premium cigars could mean an economic downturn for the entire sector. The FDA approved the legislationin 2009 but has not exerted its power yet.
“This bill that I am proposing says premium cigars should not be regulated by the FDA,” said Toomey. “I’m not aware of any evidence of young kids smoking $10 cigars.”
He said he questions whether or not the FDA needs to regulate something kids don’t use.
Toomey is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1461, the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2011. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson, would exempt large or premium cigars from FDA regulation and user fees.
Murphy said the FDA is currently looking at regulating 100 percent of the tobacco products that Cigars International is selling. Between 80 and 90 percent of the cigars that his company distributes and produces are larger cigars, weighing at least six pounds per one thousand cigars, said Zaresky.
Toomey said he hopes the FDA will leave this small cigar industry alone.
“We expect an FDA rule on this relatively soon,” he said.
“We are not after young kids,” said Zaretsky. “We just want to retain the ability to sell our product.”