The Food and Drug Administration is bringing cigars under its authority and, as a result, the ornate cigar boxes that aficionados regard as works of art may never look the same.
As part of the massive new tobacco rule that the FDA released Thursday, the agency is mandating that cigar packages include prominent new warning labels intended to remind smokers of health risks.
The largest cigar manufacturers agreed to display similar warnings in a 2000 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission; the FDA’s action, however, will now require the warnings for all cigars, including premium cigars favored by enthusiasts.
“Broadly, we haven’t been bound by any regulations in the past, so this is kind of a new step,” said Kip Talley, senior director for federal legislative affairs at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association.
All cigar manufacturers will be required to cycle through six warnings displayed prominently on their packages. The warnings must cover at least 30 percent of the package and be printed in at least 12-point font:
- WARNING: This product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.
- WARNING: Cigar smoking can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, even if you do not inhale.
- WARNING: Cigar smoking can cause lung cancer and heart disease.
- WARNING: Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes.
- WARNING: Tobacco smoke increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease, even in nonsmokers.
- WARNING: Cigar use while pregnant can harm you and your baby. (Or, as an optional alternative statement: SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Tobacco Use Increases the Risk of Infertility, Stillbirth and Low Birth Weight.)
Under the new rule, Talley said, the decorative boxes that have long stocked the shelves of high-class cigar shops could be sullied.
“The importance of maintaining the ornate nature of the box is obviously a big deal for our manufacturers. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the box design,” Talley said. “They’re very collectible, and people are making art out of them.”
There had been a concerted lobbying effort to exempt “premium” cigars — more expensive and often hand-rolled — from the FDA’s authority. But the agency concluded that there was no public health justification from excluding any subset of cigars from its purview.
The tobacco industry has long fought against labeling requirements, while anti-smoking advocates have pushed the federal government to go further by mandating the graphic warning labels that many other countries have adopted. A 2013 study published in Tobacco Control found that smoking in Canada had dropped as much as 20 percent after graphic warning labels were introduced. But other behavioral scientists have countered that there is little direct evidence that graphic labels themselves actually reduce smoking.
The premium-cigar retailers association has supported legislation introduced in Congress to exempt premium cigars from the FDA’s regulations, including the requirements for warning labels.
“We don’t want to have  percent of the box covered by labels,” Talley said. “It’s just a no-go for our members.”