Two months ago, the Premium Cigar Association raised the issue of “Responsible Marketing” stating that “marketing that makes use of characters, foods, or candy associated with children’s interests are never appropriate, even when targeted toward an adult audience.” Today Glynn Loope and Joshua Habursky of the Premium Cigar Association penned an article entitled “Let’s Not Candy Coat the Situation.” In the article, the authors took at position that such marketing initiatives should “cease immediately” and also has called for “self-regulation”.

The article certainly takes a stronger position than in February when it issued its initial statement on Responsible Marketing. In particular, that initial statement said: “This letter is not a response to address any recent activity, but a reminder of what is at stake and what we can do to preserve our reputations as premium cigar manufacturers and retailers.”

While there were no specifics on a self-regulation plan, the PCA did say it will continue to have discussions around Responsible Marketing.

Let’s Not Candy Coat the Situation

by Glynn Loope & Joshua Habursky

The words “government” and “common sense” are not often used in the same sentence and being the target of legislation and regulation as an industry isn’t an ideal situation. The current state of affairs should cause all of us to pause for a moment to reflect on ways the premium cigar industry can “keep the government off our back” and the steps consumers and companies can take to prevent political intervention.

It was that school of thought that prompted the Premium Cigar Association to launch a “self-regulation” initiative that began February 1st with the release of our responsible marketing statement. The statement’s purpose is for the industry to consider its public facing communications as the ideal opportunity to message what we know to be true – that the premium cigar industry is adult focused and doesn’t market to children. The statement fostered debate and conversations about marketing, self-regulation, and the important role that consumers, retailers, and manufacturers play in maintaining a healthy marketplace. The association is committed to protecting the industry and will be furthering these conversations at the PCA 2022 Trade Show and will be working on actionable steps in the meantime to keep legislators and regulators at bay from infringing upon the ability to enjoy premium cigars as legal adults.

Marketing and the manner in which the industry communicates is under the political and bureaucratic microscope. The issuance of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report highlights this point, as they note the lack of formal self-regulation standards. The report reads, “Sufficient evidence indicates that the tobacco industry does not self-regulate its marketing practices for any product and that restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion can influence health consequences, including addiction and decreasing exposure among targeted populations and the deceptive or misleading nature of marketing.” In other words, if we do not police ourselves, the government will invite itself to take action. The premium cigar arena doesn’t need names like “candy bar,” “chocolate brownie,” “whipped cream,” and “milk & Cookies” nor should they have Marvel comic book characters on their packaging.

As the leading representatives of the premium cigar industry before the FDA, Congress, the White House, and state legislators we are telling you that this activity puts the industry at risk and should cease immediately. At all levels of government there is zero-tolerance when it comes to marketing tobacco products to children. Their definitions are broad, ambiguous, and even the appearance of impropriety invites intervention.

With this new microscope on the industry and impending new leadership in the tobacco regulatory ranks at the FDA, it is ever more important for the industry to set its own standards. It is that proverbial moment when you have to ask: Would you like to write your own rules, or have the government do it for you?

A case in point just presented itself as an example in New York state this week. State Assemblyman Kevin Byrne and fifteen of his colleagues have introduced A.B. 9732, calling upon the candy and confectionery industry to stop packaging and distribution of candy that resembles tobacco products. The legislation notes “these candies are a thing of the past,” continuing yet “still remain legal for sale and are still on the shelves of some local stores.” The age-old premise to the bill is, it sends the wrong message to children and normalizes such “habits” with young impressionable minds.

While the cigar industry is not underwriting the production and sale of such candy, it begs the question, should the cigar industry support a ban on bubble gum cigars (which are specifically noted in the legislation); would doing so promote additional action that targets actual tobacco product packaging and marketing? Regardless, the bill causes us to think about how we position ourselves as an industry.

As the original PCA responsible marketing statement indicated, we are not here to stifle creativity but to set up guard rails that protect the industry at large from isolated incidents. We know our own industry and should be writing the rules, not the government. As the voice of premium cigars, PCA is working on actionable steps to demonstrate our commitment in this regard. We will be fostering opportunities for industry discussion, including dedicated time at the PCA 2022 Trade Show. As we head down that road, we appeal to you for constructive input and support. The future of our industry depends on it.