“I have never been fearful of taxes… But what I am fearful of is prohibition.” — Carlito Fuente
Walking into Georgetown Tobacco is an experience of the senses. First you’re greeted by a distinct and pleasant aroma unique to our store. It’s what brings back happy memories for so many who walk through our door.
Then your eyes start to take in a variety of colorful merchandise all handcrafted by skilled artisans— be it the Venetian carnival masks, the Elie Bleu humidors, or Brizard & Co. leather and wood accessories. That’s before you even take in the wide selection of cigars, pipes and pipe tobaccos.
Depending on the day the sounds you’ll hear will vary, but you’re likely to hear the staff greeting customers we’ve known for years, exchanging thoughts on what we’ve been smoking recently, and probably a fair amount of laughter too.
What you may not hear is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knocking on our door, threatening the existence of Georgetown Tobacco, 2,000 other stores like ours across the United States, and the manufacturers of the cigars and pipe tobaccos you love. It’s hard to imagine that in our country, a government entity could possibly put an end to 59 years of a small business that has brought so much joy to so many.
Please know, that threat is very real. Despite being 0-3 in the courts, the FDA continues to propose new regulations in their continued efforts to create a country free of tobacco. While cigarette and vape companies may be the primary targets, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products continues to include the premium cigar and pipe tobacco industries in their efforts. The most recent effort is a proposed rule: “Requirements for Tobacco Product Manufacturing Process.” In essence, the 90 page proposed rule would require that all cigar and pipe tobacco factories mimic the environments, procedures and processes of pharmaceutical laboratories— including elements requiring specific building materials, equipment and compliance training, and the ability to trace from seed to smoke every element that goes into a cigar.
The proposed rule creates an insurmountable burden for the small family factories that produce the majority of the cigars and pipe tobaccos we enjoy today and threatens their very existence. Given that the cigars every tobacconist sells come from these factories, so too are our stores at risk. In part of the effort to fight against the proposed rule, the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) in collaboration with Cigar Rights of America (CRA), the Boutique Cigar Association (BCA), and the Congressional Cigar Caucus hosted a panel at the U.S. Capitol. The goal of the event was for invited members of Congress and their staffs to hear from industry experts about their businesses and the potential impacts of the proposed rule. Panelists included Carlito Fuente from Arturo Fuente Cigars, Dr. Gaby Kafie, founder and president of the BCA, Greg Zimmerman, owner of The Tobacco Company in PA and past president of the PCA and Joshua Habursky, Deputy Executive Director of the PCA. The panel was moderated by Representative Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania, and was well attended by several congressmen.
A friend of Georgetown Tobacco for decades, Carlito was exceptionally articulate and passionate when sharing his story. He spoke of growing up in his grandfather’s house in Tampa, “and when I say house I mean the factory. I played under the rolling tables as a small boy. The house was always filled with love.” Carlito’s grandfather, Arturo, rolled cigars in Tampa until they moved the business to Nicaragua where there were more rollers available. In the 70s, they lost everything in the revolution, moving to the Dominican Republic in 1980. Today, Arturo Fuente Cigars produces 30 million cigars per year. Carlito was particularly concerned about how the proposed rule would impact the families of those who work for him, and the artisanal aspect of how they create cigars. “A cigar maker is like a butcher, trimming around the fat. They may have to take a different approach with every leaf they touch.” Later in the discussion Carlito said, “I have never been fearful of taxes… But what I am fearful of is prohibition.”
The Boutique Cigar Association represents 55 members, all boutique cigar manufacturers who by their definition, produce fewer that 500,000 cigars per year. PCA estimates there are 330,000 people employed by cigar companies in Central America. Dr. Gaby Kaffie noted, “For every one person in the factory, four more people depend on that income.” So if the proposed rule were to take effect, there are potentially 1.3 million people who would be negatively impacted, creating border security and immigration concerns for the U.S.
As the proposed rule directly relates to manufacturers, it ultimately includes all of us as retailers and consumers. If you’d like to take action and sign a petition against this proposed rule and voice your concerns to the FDA, please click on this link from CigarAction.org: https://cigaraction.org/campaign/petition-oppose-fda-proposed-rule/
CigarAction.org is a site maintained by the Premium Cigar Association and provides insight to all legislative, taxation and regulatory threats to the premium cigar and pipe industries at both the state and federal levels. Sign up there to receive alerts for activity in your state.
The Caucus Brief was designed to educate and entertain. While we’d like to continue the focus on “the fun stuff,” we appreciate this opportunity to share with you some of the challenges we face as well. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support!