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Cigar aficionados smolder as FDA prepares to rolle out regulations

Nearly four years after it began regulating cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration is poised to extend its reach to a broader range of tobacco products. At the top of that list: cigars, which have experienced a boom in recent years even as cigarette sales have declined, in part because of growing popularity among young people.

Anti-tobacco advocates and industry representatives widely expect the agency to require changes in the marketing and manufacturing of cigars. But the central question remains: What kind of cigars will the FDA target, and how?

On one end of the spectrum are the hand-rolled Cohibas and Arturo Fuentes that stock the humidors of high-end cigar shops and are favored by aficionados who don’t blink at paying top dollar. On the other are the convenience-store brands that appeal primarily to young smokers, such as 59-cent blueberry Swisher Sweets, peach-flavored White Owl Cigarillos and Phillies Blunts Sour Apple.

Public health experts and some anti-tobacco lawmakers are pressing the FDA to regulate all cigars – but, in fact, they mostly worry about the inexpensive, flavored varieties that have proliferated in recent years. Such cigars “are marketed aggressively and have resulted in high school kids and young adults being twice as likely as their older counterparts to be cigar smokers,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a recent report.

Makers of “premium cigars” have been lobbying intensely in an effort to avoid being lumped in with the flavored corner-store varieties. A bill on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by dozens of lawmakers, would keep carefully defined “traditional large and premium” cigars out of the FDA’s reach, although its prospects remain uncertain.

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