1. Opinion

Ruth: Let troops smoke cigars

Published Sep. 9, 2016

For the sake of argument, let's assume you are a soldier fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. And after a hard day of having really bad people trying to kill you, you make it back to base in one piece. It would be nice to be able to chill out for a few hours before your next patrol when more bad people will try to kill you again.

Perhaps you would like to enjoy the simple pleasure of a stogie that has been sent to you courtesy of Tampa's J.C. Newman Cigar Co., or maybe the Thompson Cigar Co. In a war zone, modest comforts are hard to find and after a long day putting one's life on the line, a brief respite to puff on a Panetela hardly seems an excessive perk of the job fending off al-Qaeda, ISIS and Hezbollah.

Alas, on this one minor point, it would seem our fighting men and women have another rear-guard foe to tangle with — worry-wart bureaucrats.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, normally contends with issues surrounding health care, or the economy, or budgetary matters. More recently, Castor has found herself tangling with those party poopers over at the Food and Drug Administration.

At the moment, the Tobacco Control Act forbids the charitable distribution of tobacco products. The measure is theoretically crafted to prohibit handing out free cigarettes, cigars or even e-cigarettes to children. It is doubtful a 10-year-old would appreciate the charms of a well-crafted Montecristo No. 34 Robusto.

The problem with the FDA pursed-lipped antipathy toward anyone lighting up a free cigar could adversely impact the work of groups like Support the Troops, a Wesley Chapel-based charity that sends care packages containing goodies to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, the Tampa Bay Times' Tony Marrero reported that cigars are the second-most requested item among the troops, aside from coffee. There's probably something else our military men and women really need that involves Barry White background music, but we needn't go there.

So Castor introduced HR 662, which would exempt premium cigars from the onerous provision of the Tobacco Control Act, to allow the likes of J.C. Newman, Thompson and other cigar companies to donate their products to the military.

Castor, who already has lined up at least 165 co-sponsors to what we could call the Cigar Liberation Act, expects the measure to quickly be approved this fall. Ah, if only all legislation could proceed as smoothly as the Giving the Raspberry to the Cigar Fuddy-Duddies Act.

Of course, there are always going to naysayers like the American Cancer Society's Action Network's policy wonk Katie McMahon, who told Marrero that she still opposed sending a few well-rolled sticks of smokes to the troops.

"We believe we should be protecting the health and well-being of our military, just as they're protecting the country," McMahon sniffed.

Protecting the health and well-being? Really?

Members of our military are consigned to various rat holes in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have to contend with poisonous spiders and snakes. They run the very real risk of getting shot, or blown up by an improvised explosive device. They might come home in a body bag or sustain a horrific debilitating injury. They could well experience a lifetime of post-traumatic stress disorder.

These troops are operating in one of the most dangerous environments on the face of the planet, and McMahon is wringing her hands over the health and well-being consequences of smoking a cigar?

There's no question the American Cancer Society does wonderful work. But getting all huffy over American troops in a combat zone engaging in the modest pleasure of a cigar would seem to be a busybody too far.

McMahon needs to lighten up, or maybe light up. Perhaps J.C. Newman could send her a lovely Cuesta-Rey Centro Fino starter kit.


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