In his 2017 book The Strange Death of Europe, political commentator Douglas Murray argues that Europe is—in slow but certain fashion—committing suicide. Whether by mass immigration or declining local birth rates, Douglas argues that European civilization is, with little opposition by Europeans, undermining its very existence.
Comparing the cigar industry in America to Douglas’s Europe might sound like a stretch. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Like Douglas’s Europe, the cigar industry has a chief rival and threat—for us, a powerful government agency called the FDA with a stated goal of completely eliminating tobacco use. It has demonstrated it will use any means necessary to put tobacco companies out of business. All it needs to enact sweeping, destructive regulations like plain packaging or defacto bans on new products entering the market, is a compelling political reason.
Like, for instance, cigar companies marketing their products to kids.
Of course, marketing cigars to kids sounds preposterous. Premium cigars are too expensive. Kids certainly don’t like cigars—most adults don’t either!
But imagine with me for a moment a public hearing where FDA officials present images proving that cigar companies are seeking younger consumers by branding cigars to be attractive to kids?
For instance, making cigars that reference popular children’s show characters:
Or by making cigars that look like candy bars.
Will an 11 year old kid spend $10 to buy a premium cigar? No, of course not. But whether it’s realistic or not doesn’t matter—all the FDA, or federal or state anti-tobacco legislators need to crush the cigar industry is a plausible harm to the public. Marketing tobacco to minors is at the top of the list of plausible harms.
Let’s imagine what the possible implications are for the cigar industry if screenshots like the ones above made their way into the hands of anti-tobacco congressional staffers or FDA interns.
- Outright bans on new product, or regulations so stifling new products are impossible to bring to market
- Tax increases at state and federal levels on premium cigars
- Plain packaging requirements
- Bans on granting new tobacco retail licenses (see NYC)
- Bans on any positive media around cigars/cigar smoking—including on social media or blogs like this one
These regulations would drastically affect our industry for the worst. And though they might seem far off, just ask our BOTL’s in Canada to the north how quickly plain packaging was implemented and how it has degraded the cigar culture there.
So what’s the “strange” part of the strange death of the cigar industry? To me, what’s strange is that few, if any, cigar smokers or media members have spoken out publicly against brands who seem intent on creating a PR crisis for this industry. As far as I can tell, smokers know that branding a cigar to look like candy or children’s cartoon characters is dangerous. I ran a poll on that question on Instagram a month ago and out of 134 votes, 92 (69%) agreed the practice is irresponsible. But for every one comment about how it’s not a good idea, there are a hundred more instagram posts and youtube videos promoting the products.
The bottom line is, a small group of brands (Privada Cigar Club and Ezra Zion to name two) are putting the entire cigar industry at risk gimmicky marketing. And if unchallenged, they’ll likely set the stage for more brands to follow suite with similar designs. And that will get the attention of the bureaucrats and the politicians.
It’s hard to imagine an America with a radically stifled cigar market; where new blends are rare, cigars are astronomically expensive, and smoking in lounges is a thing of the past. But most cigar brand owners and retailers I’ve spoken to are keenly aware of just how fragile our current freedoms are.
So how do we avoid this strange death of the cigar industry? It’s pretty simple actually. Brands: put the children’s characters, knock-off candy bars, and video game characters down. There’s plenty of room for fun in branding—and no reason to be reckless. For consumers, my advice is: stop buying cigars that feature packaging designs you know would raise the interest of a kid or teenager. And stop buying products from the companies that make them.
Together, we can preserve this incredible industry. We just have to try.