House bill proposes restrictions on cigars Measure targets sale to minors, calls for health warnings

August 06, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF

The first national legislation to regulate cigars was introduced yesterday, calling for a health-warning label, limits on advertising, sales and distribution, and restrictions on marketing to minors.

The congressional bill is aimed at closing a loophole on the only major tobacco product left virtually unchecked by federal law, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and senior member of the House Commerce Committee, where the bill is expected to be referred.

"Cigars are being perceived as more glamorous and less dangerous than cigarettes," Markey said in an interview. "My legislation will drive home the point that cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes."

A spokesman for the cigar industry said yesterday that manufacturers "endorse the goal" of the bill. But Norman F. Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America, said, "We do not think that legislation is necessary to accomplish that goal." The industry is opposed to under-age smoking and to marketing and advertising aimed at youth, he said. But Sharp added that the industry opposes a federal warning label.

The move to regulate cigar sales has the backing of past and present surgeon generals and federal agencies, which are already looking into ways of regulating cigars. And public health leaders welcomed the bill.

"There's no question that we feel there's a need for the control of cigars and to keep kids from having easy access to them. I think the message has to be given that this is dangerous," said David S. Rosenthal, president of the American Cancer Society.

"As someone who wants to protect kids, what [Markey is] doing is identifying a potential hole in the tobacco proceedings," said Christopher Foreman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "What he wants is to make sure cigars don't fall under the radar screen."

The bill, named the "Cigars Are No Safe Alternative Act," would: Require health warnings on cigars, cigar boxes and other packaging -- acting through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Until now, most cigar manufacturers have voluntarily adopted a weaker California warning label that says their product "contains/produces chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer." Cigarettes have carried a federal warning label since the 1960s, smokeless tobacco since the mid-1980s.

Forbid cigar advertising on television and radio. Now, manufacturers are allowed to use the electronic media to advertise cigars. The bill also encourages no use of cigars in movies and on TV shows aimed at young viewers.

Prohibit the sale of cigars to those under the age of 18. Retailers would be required to sell cigars directly to customers, which would stop vending machine sales, and keep cigars out of public reach. There are similar federal regulations for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Require cigar manufacturers to report to the secretary of health and human services on the yields of tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide and other additives in cigar smoke. There are similar rules for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

The secretary of health, in consultation with the FTC and the treasury secretary, would monitor trends in cigar smoking among teen-agers. If evidence suggested cigars were accessible to children and adolescents, the secretary would notify Congress and recommend raising cigars' tax rate or take other legislative or administrative action.

The bill is being driven by two factors: mounting evidence that cigar smoking causes cancer of the lip, tongue, esophagus, larynx and lung; and the rise of cigar smoking over the past five years.

Premium cigar consumption has increased by an estimated 250 percent in that time. And the bill cites the emergence of cigar smoking among teen-agers. In high school, more than 30 percent of males and 10 percent of females have reported using cigars, according to a 1997 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill follows a series of articles on the cigar industry published by The Sun in January. In a February hearing of the Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee, Markey criticized manufacturers for luring teen-agers by placing cigars in the hands of popular actors, such as Will Smith, the brash young hero of "Independence Day." The industry pledged to stop the practice.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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