October 29, 2012 (London) — To mark the first-ever World Tobacco Growers’ Day (#WTGD) today, tobacco farmers across the globe are taking part in dozens of events to highlight the disastrous impact World Health Organisation proposals will have on their livelihoods if passed by parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in just two weeks’ time.
“We’re celebrating the benefits our farms bring to our communities and asking our leaders to stand with us, to hear our voices, and to give us the opportunity to work together to protect our way of life,” said Antonio Abrunhosa, chief executive officer of the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA). Abrunhosa is leading the events worldwide and plans to carry the growers’ message to the FCTC’s Fifth Conference of the Parties (COP5) in Seoul, Korea next month.
WTGD begins an annual effort to bring together the world’s 30 million tobacco growers. Events in dozens of countries across four continents today demonstrate the social and economic contribution farmers make to their communities, to remember the heritage of this sector and to educate the public about the issues impacting their livelihoods.
The 2012 WTGD events focus on the threat currently facing the world’s tobacco farmers from the FCTC. At COP5 it will vote on recommendations to:
Artificially limit or reduce the land to cultivate and deny farmers the right to grow tobacco
Regulate the seasons of the year in which tobacco farming is allowed
Ban tobacco famers from working with their clients to improve crops yields, health and safety conditions and the crops environmental impacts to improve practices, health and safety conditions, prevent labor abuses, and minimize environmental impact
Dismantle the bodies relating tobacco farmers with their governments
Introduce mandatory “rehabilitation programs” that would force growers into other crops, regardless of the economic viability of that crop
“We are also asking governments to join us today and step back from the WHO abyss and protect, not penalise, poor tobacco farmers,” Abrunhosa said. He pointed out that these recommendations run contrary to the original intent of the FCTC ’ s treaty, which was to provide “technical and financial assistance to aid the economic transition of tobacco growers and workers“ if and when a decline in tobacco consumption results in lower demand for the crop.
“These draconian proposals are putting tobacco farmers under unprecedented attack from bureaucrats who are looking to artificially reduce the supply of tobacco without providing growers any viable alternatives to support their families,” said Abrunhosa. ”Contrary to FCTC’s claims, not a single smoker will stop smoking because of these proposals. All they will do is spread misery among farmers and their families in some of the least developed countries in the world. We are asking the FCTC to respect its own principles and accept growers’ knowledge and opinion on issues that impact their livelihoods.”
I’m glad to see someone is doing their homework, because the American Cancer Society and over 40 anti-tobacco groups certainly aren’t. A letter signed by anti-smoking groups arguing against HR 1639 (exempting cigars from FDA oversight) stated,
“We are particularly concerned about the wide range of products that would likely be exempted from any regulation under the bill, including Swisher Sweets Sweet Chocolate Blunts, Phillies Sugarillos Cigarillos (described on the box as “when sweet isn’t enough!”), White Owl grape Blunts Xtra, and Optimo peach Blunts. These products come in flavors and are among the most popular with youth.”
From the text of the letter, and some commentary posted by other anti-tobacco leaders, this exemption is some sort of sneaky ploy by big tobacco to shift away from marketing cigarettes to children to marketing cigars to children. And if that was the case, it really would be a pretty terrible thing.
Our friends at the American Cancer Society didn’t do their homework. As a letter from the IPCPR points out, the text of HR 1639 states that the exemption is for cigars that are “wrapped in leaf tobacco, contains no filter, and weighs at least 6 pounds per 1,000 count…”
If you know anything about Swisher Sweets, you’d know that they are not wrapped in leaf tobacco – a detail that the ACS probably missed, presumably because they don’t know anything about the premium cigar products they are trying to destroy.
Many thanks to the writers of HR 1639, who provided a short, concise exemption that keeps cheap, sweetened cigars highly regulated while trying to save the premium cigar industry.
In the past few weeks, FineTobaccoNYC has been continuing our “Cigar Wars” series, centered on the fight over regulation of the premium cigar industry. We’ve posted quite a few articles from the perspective of the industry, particularly small businesses.
Recently, though, I’ve been reading articles presenting the other side of the issue, and I want to share one that I think presents a pretty good argument for the other side. In “Why protect cigars that are aimed at children?”, Marshall C. Deason of the American Lung Association presents his case for FDA regulation of cigars. I’d encourage you to click on the link and take a read.
For those of you don’t click the link, the most potent argument he makes (in my opinion), is that, if cigars are exempted from FDA oversight, tobacco companies will change their business strategy to market and sell more flavored cigars to children. He notes that products like cigarillos and Swisher Sweets would be exempted as well under the proposed exemption rules. Deason writes,
“Products that could claim to be exempted include Swisher Sweets blunts and cigarillos, which are available in flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, grape and peach, and Phillies cigarillos, which come in flavors including watermelon, sour apple, mango, banana and coconut. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that Phillies and Swisher Sweets are among the most popular cigar brands among youth age 12-17.”
I’d be curious to know if our readers find Deason’s arguments compelling. What do you think?
Matthias recently sat down with Ronnie Parisella, CRA ambassador and FineTobaccoNYC contributing writer to chat about local and national cigar politics, with a focus on New York City. If you are a cigar smoker in New York City and want to know how you can help protect your rights, or get to know your CRA rep a bit more, then read on.
When did you originally begin smoking cigars, and what brought you in?
I was working for Charles Schwab & Co, Inc. in Brooklyn as a help desk engineer in 1997. Cigars and the economy were booming, and the NYC cigar scene was very active. This was before Bloomberg stopped smoking in bars & restaurants. My first cigar was an Ashton Maduro that I purchased from Barclay Rex on Broad St. downtown. I loved talking cigars with shop reps and still do. I’ve never walked into a humidor and failed to learn something useful. I love listening to guys argue about cigars as well, as it is all about taste. Give 5 different smokers the same cigar, and you might get 5 different sets of tasting notes. it’s all about preference, and there are nearly unlimited options available.
What is the greatest smoking experience you’ve ever had? (cigar, location, atmosphere, occasion, etc)
How about a random one? About a month ago, I was walking down 6th Ave. in NYC, when I was stopped by a police officer. As he asked me about my cigar, I assumed I was going to get harassed for smoking on the sidewalk (which is apparently illegal in NYC now), but instead, the officer told me how much he loved cigars and began to rattle off about a dozen of his favorite brands and sizes. He was such a nice guy that after we chatted, (and I gave him a couple of old CA copies I had in my bag), he popped the trunk on his cruiser, pulled out a small bag of cigars and gave me a Cuban Cohiba #2. It was an interesting NYC experience, and one that I’m sure Mayor Bloomberg, would love to eliminate in the future.
What is it about Cigar Rights of America that you find so compelling that you volunteer your time?
A common misconception regarding the anti-smoking movement is that it is solely geared toward cigarettes. It targets all smoking products including cigars. All 50 states in the US have some form of a smoking ban or a tax on tobacco products. The primary goal of the anti-smoking movement is to eventually outlaw all tobacco products. Cigar Rights of America (CRA) was founded on the principle of fighting for the freedom to enjoy cigars. CRA is a Non-Profit Consumer Grassroots Organization that works with local, state and federal governments to protect the freedoms of cigar enthusiasts.
What do you find the most common reason behind the public’s willingness to support smoking bans and tax increases?
Cigarettes. Our biggest challenge in fighting for our freedom to enjoy premium hand rolled cigars, is separating the public’s perception of tobacco. The premium hand rolled cigar industry consists of centuries old techniques that respect the land, the crop and the tradition of the industry. Big Tobacco is completely the opposite, driven by corporate greed and shareholders. The cigar industry does not intentionally make their products addictive. No additional tar, nicotine, ammonia, etc. is added to premium hand rolled tobacco. To the contrary, many steps in the fermentation/curing process specifically remove impurities from the leaf. On a recent trip to Davidoff’s Camp Camacho in Jamastran, Honduras CA, General Manager Sandra L. Ochoa described that the process is what keeps cigar tobacco from going stale, even though it gets dry. Cigarette tobacco is much more processed and cannot be revived indefinitely, like premium hand rolled cigars.
In recent years there have been quite a few increases in the amount of tobacco taxes and regulations on cigar smokers around the country. What would you say is the primary battle ground for cigar rights advocates? Local, state, or federal?
While the federal anti-tobacco movement is geared at cigarette smoking, the premium hand rolled cigar industry is still unfairly lumped in with all tobacco use. I believe that we can raise awareness about the threat to our freedoms. Unite at your local Premium Cigar Shop, with enough support, we can fight this inclusion with facts and education.
Given CRA’s mission, they are clearly very aware of the proposed invasion of the cigar industry by the FDA. What are the proposed policies, and why are they so dangerous?
Overall, I applaud the FDA for intervening in the free market to prevent underage smokers. The main concern is while the FDA has stated their investigations and focus will remain on the cigarette and not cigar industries, they may choose to do so in the future. The policies aren’t the issue. The issue is that there is no clear definition that separates the premiums hand rolled cigar industry from mass-produced, intentionally-addictive cigarette and chewing tobacco industries. I am behind the Gov’t’s intention to make tobacco use less appealing to underage Americans. I am not happy that I can no longer by D’Jarum Cloves in NYC, but I get it, and am not too upset.
What are the basic principles behind the CRA’s strategy to protect our right to enjoy fine tobacco?
This is a basic “no taxation without representation” issue. If the premium hand rolled cigar manufacturers are to be taxed, they should be taxed at rates in line with non-addictive products. This is an industry, a product of camaraderie and of brotherhood. Our NYS tobacco tax rate of 75% is ridiculous compared to some other states (i.e. Kansas – 10%). The disparity is often tied to the the aggressiveness & tenacity of local officials. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has reportedly contributed $220M of his own to the Anti-Tobacco movement.
As a resident of New York City, what do you think lies behind Mayor Bloomberg’s massive increase in tobacco regulation? What do you think his end-game is?
The Mayor wants his city to be the nicest in the world.
What can the average cigar smoker in the U.S. do to help keep the culture alive?
Since the beginning of the summer, a lot of dust has been kicked up around the proposed FDA regulation of the premium cigar industry. In our “Cigar Wars” series, we’ve been tracking the movement on the blogosphere of discussions surrounding the FDA regulations.
By far, the biggest story to hit the web so far is “Cigar Lovers to FDA: A Cigar Isnt’ Just a Cigar” by the Associated Press’s Michael Felberbaum. From what I can tell, the story has been picked up by dozens, possibly hundreds of news outlets around the country. So word is getting around.