US Court of Appeals Unanimously Strikes Down Warning Labels

July 7, 2020

Washington, DC —The Premium Cigar Association (PCA) and Cigar Rights of America (CRA) are pleased that a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found flaws in the FDA’s Deeming Rule regulating cigars and held that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) did not do necessary work to show an effect of large cigar warning labels on reducing smoking rates.

Judge Gregory G. Katsas notes in the opinion, “The Tobacco Control Act permits the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products for the public health, but only after considering whether the regulation would likely increase or decrease the number of smokers. Under this authority, the FDA promulgated regulations requiring extensive health warnings on packaging and in advertising for cigars and pipe tobacco. The FDA concluded that these warnings would help communicate the health risks of smoking, but it failed to consider how the warnings would likely affect the number of smokers. We hold that this failure violated the Tobacco Control Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.”

On February 3, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued a ruling overturning the FDA regulation that required six new health warning statements for premium cigars to be printed on premium cigar packaging/cigar boxes and premium cigar advertisements. The court found that “the FDA’s subjecting of premium cigars to warnings requirements to be arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), insofar as the agency failed to provide a reasoned explanation for this action.”

Both of these decisions further affirm the message of the PCA and CRA: That the FDA’s regulation of premium cigars is flawed and exceeds its statutory authority without justification. PCA Executive Director Scott Pearce notes, “We commend the work of our legal team on this case and providing a win for the industry. We believe that similar flaws infect the substantial equivalence requirements, which we continue to fight in the courts and with the administration”. Glynn Loope, executive director at Cigar Rights of America, stated upon the release of the court's decision, "This pronouncement by the court ratifies what the courts and members of congress have been saying for years: A reflexive, unstudied, “one-size-fits-all“ approach to regulation simply doesn’t work. For all too long, that h as been the approach of the agency, and the courts continuously tell them they’re wrong. It’s time for court decisions like today, and messages from hundreds of members of congress from both sides of the aisle to be heard: Exempt premium cigars from the most onerous elements of these regulations, and reform the most economically threatening rules that have already been implemented.”

Read the full opinion here.

Cigar Factories Around The World Reopen After Closing For Pandemic

June 5, 2020

By Cigar Aficionado

Many of the world’s handmade cigar factories were forced to shut down during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Today, most have reopened their doors, and cigars are once again flowing into distribution channels. The factories aren’t the same as they were before, however, and many have instituted changes to keep their workers safe as the virus continues to be felt around the globe, having claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. To find out what’s going on around the cigar-producing world, we spoke to a host of cigarmakers, covering factories from Santiago to Estelí, from Havana to Miami.

Dominican Republic

Arturo Fuente
After roughly two months of closure, Arturo Fuente—one of the world’s largest makers of handmade cigars—resumed production on May 11. “Everybody’s wearing masks, everybody is far from each other,” said Ciro Cascella, chief executive officer of Fuente. “When they come in, we take the temperature. When they go out, we take the temperature.”

Carlos Fuente Jr., who owns and runs Fuente, has been expanding all of his operations for the past few years. That expansion means the company has plenty of presently unused space, allowing the cigar company to spread out its workforce and put empty rows between workers who would typically sit close together.

Tabacalera de Garcia
Tabacalera de Garcia Ltd., one of the world’s largest cigar factories, was shut down from March 20 to April 6. “We started on a small scale when we reopened,” said Rafael Nodal, head of product capability for Tabacalera USA. He said the company has been ramping up production gradually since that time, but it’s still not operating at full capacity. “We have a phased plan to get back to our original capacity following the local protocol and requirements,” said Nodal.

The factory, which is located in La Romana, near the southeastern end of the Dominican Republic, is operating with new measures aimed at keeping workers safe, including distancing, additional cleaning and personal protective equipment. “Therefore the general appearance and procedures in the factory have changed,” said Nodal, “and are now part of our current business as usual.”

EPC Cigar Co.
Tabacalera La Alianza, the Santiago facility where EncoreInch and many other cigars are made, reopened on June 1 at “50 percent capacity,” said Lissette Perez-Carrillo. The company has instituted major changes, including distancing as people walk in, extensive sanitizing and temperature checks for all workers upon arrival. The company has also made all of its aisles one-way. “No one walks at each other,” she said. Face masks are mandatory when entering the building.

General Cigar
General, one of the cigar world’s largest producers, also makes cigars in Nicaragua and Honduras, but its largest factory is in Santiago, Dominican Republic. All are operating at capacity, as they did before the outbreak. “The wide range of health, hygiene and safety measures that were implemented across the factories in the course of February and March to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all employees remain in place,” said a General Cigar spokesperson. The Dominican Republic operation was closed for roughly two weeks (from late March to early April). “In Honduras, a government-mandated shutdown and curfew closed our factories for close to five weeks. And in Nicaragua, production has continued as normal throughout the past couple of months,” said the spokesperson.

Quesada Cigars
Quesada Cigars is operational, but working at half the strength as before. “Following the government instructions, the factory is now working under 50 percent of capacity until the end of the month,” said Enrique Tavarez of Quesada, which has a cigar factory in Licey, Dominican Republic. The factory reopened on May 18.

Cuba

At Habanos S.A., the Cuban government has prioritized tobacco and cigar production as essential activities, according to sources at Habanos S.A. The cigar factories are operating, and there has been no disruption in the supply lines.

In response to the pandemic, the factories have adopted sanitary precautions and added additional space. Cigarmakers’ desks are separated by nearly 5 feet, with more space added to accommodate the expanded distance between desks. Each worker is required to wear a mask and the factories have been supplied with hand sanitizers and soap for the workers.

Honduras

Flor de Copán
Tabacalera USA owns the Flor de Copán factory in northern Honduras. The factory was shut on March 15 after the country was declared under quarantine by President Juan Orlando Hernández. It was able to reopen in limited form on April 20 with “a very strict bio-safety protocol and also a plan for the gradual incorporation of our personnel,” said Joel Alvarenga, operations manager of the factory.

Now, the operation is running at nearly full strength. “We were able to incorporate all our personnel with the exception of personnel who have health problems and are considered high risk,” said Alvarenga. “We are running our operation focused on taking care of our staff.”

C.L.E. Cigars
CLE has increased space around workers and painted marks to remind employees about social distancing practices. All employees wear N-95 masks and wash their hands at least once an hour, plus there are daily temperature checks. The factory reopened on May 5.

Alec Bradley
All Alec Bradley cigars are made under contract, and most are made in Honduras at the Raices Cubanas Factory in Danlí. The country has allowed cigar factories to operate at 50 percent of their total capacity. Like most facilities, Raices is built with room for expansion, so the impact on total production has been somewhat limited. What is hampering brand owner Alan Rubin right now is Honduras’ 14-day-quarantine for visitors, making it hard for Rubin to pay a personal visit.

Nicaragua

Plasencia Cigars
“In Nicaragua we were closed for two weeks at the beginning of April…In the factories we are at full capacity but having the health of our people is our main priority,” said Nestor Andrés Plasencia. The company, one of the largest cigar tobacco growers in the world, also makes cigars in Honduras. There, the closing was longer.

“Our operations in Honduras were closed for five weeks and since April 20, they have also been operating at maximum capacity,” said Plasencia.

Oliva Cigar Co.
Oliva has remained open throughout this process, and is now operating with new policies. “We are operating at 100 percent capacity and have put in strict social distancing guidelines, instituted mask wearing policy, extreme sanitation procedures and have limited congregating,” said Cory Bappert, CEO of Oliva Cigar Co. “Also, we take everyone’s temperature as they come into the factory. We haven’t closed our factory outside of normal holidays.”

Aganorsa Leaf
“We shut down, like most of the factories, the week before Semana Santa (April 5) and reopened the week after [Easter],” said Terence Reily. “We have increased space between the employees and require frequent, thorough hand washing as well as shoe disinfectant.” The company’s small Miami operation is also open.

AJ Fernandez
One of the cigar world’s busiest cigarmakers also has some of its biggest accolades: AJ Fernandez is where the Aging Room Quattro Nicaragua Maestro, Cigar of the Year, is made. “The factory closed for two weeks,” says Frankie Santos. But it’s back on line today. “It’s at capacity, and adhering to all safety measures.”

United States

J.C. Newman
“Thankfully, neither our El Reloj factory in Tampa nor our PENSA factory in Estelí closed due to the Coronavirus,” said Drew Newman, general counsel of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The company’s facility in Ybor City, Florida, is where cigars are crafted on old machines, and are also rolled in very small quantities by hand.

“Both of our factories continue to roll cigars as they always have been,” said Newman. “Because El Reloj has 100,000-square-feet of space, it is pretty easy to socially distance. Everyone at both factories is wearing masks and frequently washing their hands, and both factories are closed to visitors. We’ve stressed to all of our employees that their health and well-being is most important and to please stay home if they are feeling sick.”

“Similarly, our joint Arturo Fuente/J.C. Newman sales team spent April and May calling on their accounts from home and participating in an extensive training program. They are now starting to visit cigar stores again while wearing masks and following CDC guidelines on social distancing," Newman added.

El Titan de Bronze
“Full steam ahead,” said Sandy Cobas, owner of El Titan de Bronze in Miami. The cigar factory/cigar store had to temporarily close, but it’s back in business. Visitors can come inside only with a mask on, but they offer curbside pickup. Everyone at the factory is wearing a mask and they had face shields made, so they are makingHerrera Esteli Miamis and others, as they did before.

Reporting by Chris Esposito, Gregory Mottola, Gordon Mott, Andrew Nagy and David Savona

Amid the Riots, Vandals Ransack Cigar Shops

June 2, 2020

By Gregory Mottola - Cigar Aficionado

Just as the United States starts to slowly re-open and come out of the Covid-19 economic shutdown city by city, many retail stores across the country must now contend with a violent wave of vandalism, arson and looting that’s come with some of the protests responding to the death of George Floyd. And that includes cigar shops.

Totaled. Devasted. Ravaged. These were the words used by David Weiss to describe what happened to The Lone Wolf Cigar Co. (pictured above) in Santa Monica, California. His store windows were shattered and his retail space was ransacked two nights ago during one of the nation’s many simultaneous riots. The Lone Wolf Cigar Co. has been serving Santa Monica since 1996.

“Everything was taken or destroyed,” he told Cigar Aficionado. Weiss, who owns a second Lone Wolf shop in West Los Angeles, estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

“This is heartbreaking for us, but much worse for our world,” said Weiss, adding that he had just reopened a few days ago after being closed for months due to the pandemic.

It was a similar story in Minneapolis, the city in Minnesota where Floyd was killed on May 25, sparking protests that later spread across the country. Anthony’s Pipe & Cigar Lounge on West Lake Street suffered extensive damage from a protest that turned destructive.

“They broke all my cabinets, everything was shattered, they broke my humidor,” Tom Harlan told Marketplace, a radio program regularly broadcast on local media stations. Harlan runs the shop, which is located in downtown Minneapolis and was vandalized two nights ago.

“They broke into the office, they broke my safe, they blew up one of my security cameras. They even took the plywood off the barber shop across the street and broke the glass and went in there,” he said.

Destruction also descended upon King’s Leaf Cigar Lounge in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. According to a report by The Post & Courier, shop owner Brian Lucier had just re-opened the store after being closed for months due to the mandatory Covid shutdown. When another protest in Charleston’s Marion Square turned violent on Saturday night, rioters hurled stones through the front windows of his cigar shop.

“All this just adds insult to injury,” he told The Post. “We’ve been bleeding for three months now and then this happens.”

Meanwhile in downtown Chicago, vandals also hit the Hubbard & State Cigar Shop. “They broke everything inside. All the cabinets. My cash register is gone. My computer is gone,” owner Rocky Mehra told WBEZ in a report. He added that “a lot of inventory, a lot of cigarettes, cigars, lighters. They’re all gone.”

One man in Bellevue, Washington, however, wasn’t going to take it lying down. A video posted on Twitter shows a person in a cowboy hat pointing a handgun at several masked looters inside a strip mall smoke shop called Cigar Land. They all filed out of the shop, one by one, mostly with their hands up, as the man with gun shouted, “Move, move, move!” Another armed man could also be seen holstering his gun and walking out of Cigar Land once the looters had left.

No injuries were reported in any of these instances.

Andrew Nagy contributed to this report.