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Cigar smokers fuming over new regulations

The consistent growth of a cigar-seeking customer base led Munwar Mohammed, owner of Tobacco City, to rent the space next to his Crystal Lake business for expansion.

Now, he’s worried potential cigar regulation might slow that progress.

“This comes at a time when we were planning on expanding our humidor. I’m already taking the space next to our store and building a humidor like six times as big as what we have,” Mohammed said. “So this is not good news.”

As the Federal Drug Administration turns its attention to regulating cigar use under the 2009 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, those in the premium cigar industry are pushing to be left out of the equation. Pending legislation in the House and Senate would amend the act to exempt premium cigars – defined as a cigar that is “wrapped solely in tobacco leaf, contains no filter, and weighs at least 6 pounds per 1,000 count” – from FDA regulation.

If the new legislation doesn’t go through, the premium cigar industry could be facing what some would consider devastating regulation. The FDA could choose to take measures like banning walk-in humidors and self serve displays, banning certain flavors, limiting marketing and advertising, regulating size and shape of cigars, banning the cigars from individual sale and limiting nicotine, according to Cigar Rights of America.

Premium cigar smokers and those in the industry argue the larger, more expensive sticks, which account for about 250 million of roughly 7 billion annual cigar sales, are a different issue than your run-of-the-mill Swisher Sweets or filtered mini-cigars.

“People that don’t use them on a regular basis, those are the ones that enjoy the premium cigars,” said Steve Wright of Cary, an occasional cigar smoker. “As oppose to those other ones that are probably everyday usage like cigarettes.”

Bill Spann, the CEO of the International Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, said widespread cigar regulation neglects to account for the way premium cigars are smoked. He advocates for a more refined definition of what a premium cigar is, which the legislation in the House and Senate would accomplish.

“Our products are enjoyed by adults, they’re celebratory in nature, they’re not addictive. Nobody’s ducking outside for a cigar break,” Spann said. “And frankly, you don’t see a teenager on a corner with a $15 cigar.”

The economic effect on the industry, Spann said, could put stores out of business, and compromise many of the approximately 86,000 jobs in premium cigars around the country.

Ken Patel, owner of Kenny the King Tobacco in Lakemoor and House of Tobacco in Algonquin, said he’s seen tobacco taxes already drive people away from tobacco stores and onto the internet. Something like banning humidors, Patel said, would further put shops at a disadvantage.

“I’m thinking sooner or later, you won’t see many cigarette or cigar stores,” Patel said.

The humidor issue in particular tends to strike a chord with cigar enthusiasts, who are worried the cigar experience would be lost under FDA regulation.

“Cigar smokers like myself, we like to go into that humidor, we like to look, we like to feel, we like to smell the cigar. That’s part of the picking of it,” said Bill McCaffrey, a Waukegan resident. “When you can’t have hands on, it’s really going to kill the cigar industry if that goes through.”

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