TAMPA — Premium cigar makers who want to donate stogies to U.S. troops serving abroad should be exempt from federal rules that prohibit charitable contributions of tobacco products.
Or so says U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, responding to a Tampa Bay Times story about cigar makers and retailers like Tampa's J.C. Newman and Thompson Cigar Co. that stopped their decades-long tradition of donating cigars to troops after new U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations took effect Aug. 8.
In a letter to Thompson chief operating officer Alix Franzblau, Castor said she plans to file a bill to "specifically address allowing charitable contributions of premium cigars to U.S. military members and non-profit organizations that support them."
"FDA's regulations are unreasonable and I will do everything I can to change them so that our troops do not miss out on the generosity of companies like yours," Castor wrote.
Premium cigarmakers and retailers have been up in arms for months about the new rules that impose stringent fees and regulations on tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. The companies say a new FDA review process for bringing new products to market will be lengthy and costly and could kill their industry.
Some in the industry believe a provision in the new FDA rules that forbids handing out free samples of tobacco products could apply to donated cigars. What's more, an existing rule under the Tobacco Control Act that forbids the charitable distribution of tobacco products now apparently applies to cigars, experts say.
Cigarmakers and retailers donate thousands of cigars each year to groups like the Wesley Chapel-based Support the Troops, whose director said "sticks" are the second-most requested item behind coffee.
Premium cigars aren't marketed toward or used by children and don't have the same addictive pull as cigarettes and other high-nicotine products, Castor said in an interview Monday. She has already filed a bill, HR 662, which would exempt premium cigars from the regulations.
After reading the Times story, however, Castor decided to craft a specific measure addressing charitable contributions. She hopes to have it ready by next week when Congress reconvenes after summer break.
"It's just a severe overreach by the FDA," she said.
Franzblau said the bill is a step in the right direction, though the industry still has grave concerns about the overall effects of the rules.
"We're just thrilled that she's acting so quickly," Franzblau said "The immediate response is above and beyond and we really, really appreciate it."
Not everyone believes it's a good idea to send cigars to military members.
Cigars can be just as deadly as other tobacco products and donations, and however well-meaning, could encourage non-smokers to pick up a habit, said Katie McMahon, a policy expert for the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. The advocacy group opposes any exemptions for premium cigars.
"We believe we should be protecting the health and well-being of our military just as they're protecting our country," McMahon said.
Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (812) 226-3372.