In some ways this post needs no introduction: if you have been a member of this community for any amount of time, you know full well what looms with the proposed FDA regulation of premium cigars. That said, I've had several conversations -- some casual, some rather intense -- with retailers, fellow feadheads, other botl, and generic freedom-loving Americans that, coupled with Logan's epic rant on Cigar Chat last night, have given rise to the following not-so-scientific observations on the current and not-too-distant future status of the cigar industry. Before I proceed, you, dear reader, should know that I do not pretend to speak as an industry insider. I am not a manufacturer. Nor am I a retailer. I am a cigar peon; the bottom of the food chain; the end consumer. My thoughts should not be construed as the final word or even the first word. These are my thoughts, from my little window on the (cigar) world as it stares down the barrel of the FDA.
First, as an end consumer, I do not see the cigar industry creating a unified front against the draconian efforts of the FDA to regulate premium cigars. Like most of you, I am not privy to inner-sanctum conversations among the cigar industry movers and shakers. So, maybe, just maybe some very important people are working on some kind of litigation or injunction that would at least forestall the very worst. And no one owes me the nitty-gritty details of such conversations. But, if I worked for the CRA or the IPCPR, I'd be screaming from the top of my lungs that SOMETHING IS IN THE WORKS. But what do I see? Nada, nothing, bupkus. Yes, there is a petition or two. Yes, some manufacturers are reassuring us that they are going to stand up against the FDA. While both are appreciated, neither has the intended affect of consoling me that all is well and that we aren't staring in the face of (as Logan put it) a giant asteroid that will forever change the landscape of the premium cigar industry. Why? Precisely because none of these efforts are indicative of an industry-wide counter-measure. Someone with some cache needs to step into the gap, galvanize their fellow manufacturers and/or retailers, and present to the cigar loving world the industry's counter-offensive against the FDA. It isn't me; it can't be me. In fact, my guess is there are very, very few who CAN do such a thing. The question, however, is WILL anyone do anything to this effect?
Second, the ignorance and misinformation regarding the FDA's regulation among retailers and end consumers is downright flabbergasting. In the last three days I've had five separate conversations -- three with retailers, two with other cigar smokers. Four have left me mystified. I asked three retailers what they thought of the impending regulations. One told me he was very concerned, and was willing to do whatever he could to ensure the exemption of premium cigars from FDA regulation. Bravo! The other two, however, were, for lack of a better term, utterly clueless. One told me that he wasn't worried at all: "nothing much will change," he said. I was stunned. Floored, in fact. So much so that I told him in not so many words that if the FDA gets its way, he can kiss goodbye his entire humidor. He has almost no product that was marketed prior to the 2007 grandfather date. He didn't believe me. For one of the few times in my life I was speechless. He indicated that he would wait until the IPCPR trade show to investigate the matter further. I hope by then my first concern is alleviated; if not, this guy will be stunned in two years when he is forced either to turn off the lights or to stock nothing but General and Altidas products. The third retailer said something that, on the surface, might seem reassuring, but is actually quite distressing. He told me that a manufacturer's sales rep told his boss that his company was going to press on no matter what happened. This retailer took some solace in that. I don't. You know why? Words. Nothing. But. Words. Neither this retailer nor I really know if this particular manufacturer has the intestinal fortitude, let alone the cash, to press on in the face of costly and over-burdensome regulations. Moreover, perhaps this company was one of the big boys that doesn't stand to lose entire facings, if not their entire market existence, in nearly two years time. The two conversations with fellow cigar enthusiasts were just as mired in misinformation. I'll spare you the gory details. All this confusion and ignorance only illustrates the significance of my first observation: the industry needs a united front, with a united strategy, and united talking points for both manufacturers and retailers.
Third, and finally, simply put: FREEDOM. As Logan and Rob pointed out last night, this isn't a cigar issue per se. It is a matter of the government regulating our basic rights to enjoy a legal product. And you know what really grinds my gears? As a resident of the great state of WA, I see weed shops popping up all over the place. There are at least eight within just a few miles of my suburban home. Say what you will about the legalization of mary jane, but in what world does it make sense that I would be able to buy as much weed as I want, but not be able to buy and enjoy the cigars that I want? But that is precisely the world I will soon be living in, if not for a 4th quarter hail Mary that exempts premium cigars from FDA regulation (and, yes, I believe we're in the 4th quarter; it's gut-check time, folks).
One last word: I don't know what the solution is, though I think Logan is dead on in suggesting that someone needs to file an injunction against the proposed regulations. I'm a minister. This isn't my job. This is a hobby that I really enjoy, one that has afforded me friendships that I would not otherwise have. I'm not sure what needs to be done. But that's precisely my point: I don't know, but someone, somewhere out there, probably does. To you, I say, get on it, and tell me what I can do to contribute to the cause. If my experience in smoking premium cigars for the last 20 years tells me anything, it is this: people from all different quarters of society have a lot in common over a good cigar. If that principle holds true, then someone ought to be able to galvanize the entire industry -- manufacturers, retailers, and end consumers.
Thanks for reading.
Thanks for sharing, Stefan. I know I've been one of the people around here that doesn't seem to be as fired up as most others. It has not been because I don't care, that I can assure you. Watching the industry as a whole, I've seen actually what you do, lack of cohesion. For the past year or so, I've been told how I need to join and be a member of CRA, and how they will stand up for the consumers like myself. A voice for us all. Like you said, we haven't seen much in response. People were like, "Sign this petition, Doug." Ten minutes later, "Oh, we need everyone to sign this petition too!" I've got to be honest here. Petitions mean dick. It is the written equivalent of picketing. It raises a few eyebrows, and maybe gets people to stop and think for a moment. At the end of the day, that isn't going to cut the mustard in a situation like this. Not with what the industry is up against.
It is almost blatantly obvious this is backed by big tobacco. Okay, it is truth. That means the cigar industry needs to come to the fight united, and armed properly. Some people have said they need to work together with the vape industry to create a larger backing with similar interests. I don't think this is a good idea, as these two industries are not even close to the same. We know this because we've said it doesn't make sense that they were clumped together as it stands. What I have seen is the vape industry band together on its own, and strongly even. Cigars need to do the same. My guess, and hope, is IPCPR is where this will happen. Face to face, people can talk and work out a true game plan and response. A place to unite everyone with one voice, and a true representative of the industry. Problem with that is that it doesn't happen until the end of July. So, really, things need to already be happening behind the scenes. We just may not be in the know. And that is most likely due to them wanting to get their ducks in a row before they go public with their game plan. All we can do is hope this is true.
Very good post sir.