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Editorial

The FDA's power over cigars

Two bills in Congress would remove its authority to regulate cigars. That would be a mistake.

June 06, 2012
  • Customers of 2nd St. Cigars in Long Beach smoke cigars outside. According to the National Cancer Institute, cigars have higher levels of tar, toxins and carcinogens than cigarettes and cause cancers of the mouth, lips, throat and esophagus.
Customers of 2nd St. Cigars in Long Beach smoke cigars outside. According… (Los Angeles Times )

The 2009 federal law that required the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationto begin regulating cigarettes also gave it the option of regulating cigars. Now two bills, one in each chamber of Congress, would remove the agency's authority over "traditional" cigars — the regular size that you're used to, not the ones the size of cigarettes.

It's true that cigarettes are the far bigger health scourge in the United States, accounting for nearly one in five deaths each year, according to theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traditionally, cigars have not been popular among young people, which is significant because preventing smoking among youth is one of the key reasons for regulating tobacco.

But there's nothing good to be said about the health effects of cigar smoking. Even though cigar lovers don't typically inhale the smoke, their lung cancer rates are higher than those of nonsmoking Americans — though lower than those of cigarette smokers. According to the National Cancer Institute, cigars have higher levels of tar, toxins and carcinogens than cigarettes and cause cancers of the mouth, lips, throat and esophagus. They also produce more secondhand smoke.

The rate of cigar smoking have been increasing for the last two decades, and cigars can now be found in fruit and candy flavors, including chocolate — the same kind of flavor tweaking that got many teenagers hooked on cigarettes. That was why the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act — the legislation that gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products — banned flavoring in cigarettes. The new bills would prevent the FDA from doing the same for many types of cigars.

Last year, the state of Maryland found that while cigarette smoking was less popular among teenagers, cigar smoking had increased, a trend that state officials blamed on flavored cigars. Similar findings have been reported in other states over the last several years. True, those numbers include the very small cigars that would continue to be regulated by the FDA if the legislation passed, but they also include the larger ones. Many high school and college students mistakenly believe that cigars are not very dangerous.

It would be a shame to see the hard-fought battle against cigarettes undermined by increased cigar use. Whether in cigarettes, cigars or pipes, tobacco is a harmful product that kills and sickens many of the individuals who smoke it, and costs taxpayers enormous sums in treatment for smoking-related diseases. That's why the FDA was given the power to regulate it, power that should not be weakened now.

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