Bondi: FDA Cigar rules ‘Overboard’


Attorney General Pam Bondi labeled as “overbroad” the federal government’s proposed regulations to link electronic cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products to the same rules as the cigarette industry.

Bondi wrote in a letter that she wants the Food and Drug Administration to consider the potential impact of the announced rule changes on Ybor City cigar manufacturer J.C. Newman Cigar, urging the federal agency to “more narrowly tailor these overbroad regulations.”

The FDA is looking to discourage the use of electronic cigarettes and tobacco products among minors by expanding rules now in place on the sales and advertising of cigarettes.

J.C. Newman is the lone survivor of a cigar industry that first came to Tampa in the 1890s.

“This 119-year-old premium cigar company with 130 employees is truly unique in this industry and should not be regulated in the same manner as the nation’s largest cigarette companies,” Bondi wrote on Friday, the deadline for submissions on the federal plan.

Bondi’s letter was separate from a letter signed the same day by 29 other attorneys general that implored the FDA to make the proposed regulations even stronger, particularly in regard to electronic cigarettes.

The e-cigarette devices are seen by some as more acceptable than smoking, with the process involving a vaporizer to inhale nicotine that is often enhanced with flavors that range from simple vanilla, grape and banana to more alluring cotton candy, peach schnapps, pina colada and bubblegum.

“The FDA has recognized that flavored tobacco products containing flavors like vanilla, orange, chocolate, cherry and coffee are especially attractive to youth and are widely considered to be starter products, establishing smoking habits that can lead to a lifetime of addiction,” the group of attorneys general said in the letter.

The group of attorneys general includes 21 Democrats, seven Republicans and one without party affiliation. The effort was led by Eric Schneiderman of New York, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Lisa Madigan of Illinois and Greg Zoeller of Indiana.

Regulators have agonized over whether e-cigarettes are a step in helping people quit smoking or serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction.

But the attorneys general said, in their letter, e-cigarettes are exposing an increasing number of youths to nicotine.

Bondi, in her letter, generally supports the enforcement of federal regulations on e-cigarettes, which would be similar to a Florida law approved in the 2014 legislative session.

The measure (SB 224) made it a second-degree misdemeanor as of July 1 to sell e-cigarettes and related products to minors.

Jennifer Haliski, a spokeswoman for the FDA, said Wednesday that letters submitted on the proposed rule change will be reviewed as quickly as possible. However, no timetable is set for when a final decision will be made, she said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have requested an exemption to the new rules for companies that don’t mass-produce cigars, such as J. C. Newman. The FDA is already considering an exemption for premium cigars that are handmade. J.C. Newman uses vintage machines.

Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera last month sent a similar request about the impact of the proposed regulations on Florida cigar companies.