Cigar Editorial: The Altria Fallout – 2 Days Later

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Before I continue with this article, it’s important to urge any reader who isn’t already a Cigar Rights of America member, to sign-up at here to support cigar rights and freedoms across the industry.

The last 36 hours have been very active for us and on social media after Cigar Aficionado posted their article titled “America’s Largest Cigarette Company Comes Out Against FDA Exemption For Handmade Cigars”.

I responded with the article “Cigar Editorial: Analyzing Altria’s Comments to the FDA”.  I will be the first to acknowledge that my analysis is not the best or most complete editorial work I’ve done in my 7+ years in cigar media.

Now that I’ve had a day to sit down and properly review my original editorial statements, I hope that this follow up article provides better clarity.

My reaction was one of disappointment in the way that the coverage was handled. I’ve always looked to Cigar Aficionado for their insightful and well written coverage of the cigar industry, but I felt that their coverage lacked the depth and professionalism shown in the past. I firmly believe that as one of the most influential cigar media publications in the industry, they have an ethical responsibility to provide unbiased and detached emotional reporting.

We at Developing Palates are strong supporters of Cigar Rights of America, the IPCPR, and other pro-cigar industry groups who have worked tirelessly.

Let me also be clear that we at Developing Palates are against FDA legislation, or any anti-cigar industry legislation that seeks to limit, ban, or otherwise harm cigar manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. This includes, but is not limited to, the tens of thousands of people employed worldwide. It is an industry made up of large multi-national companies, but it is also has hundreds of small to medium sized cigar companies that have already been impacted by the FDA. The premium handmade cigar industry represents less than 1% of the total tobacco market, making it truly a cottage industry that should be protected.

I myself am employed in cigar retail in Canada, where we have seen the continued erosion of cigar rights, which have led to indoor smoking bans, preposterous cigar taxes, and an industry that is now faced with the threat of plain paper packaging.

In writing my analysis, I failed to coherently connect some of my comments on the Altria letter to the FDA.  My initial statements have been construed as being personally supportive of FDA legislation, when the intent was to provide the outline as to why Altria would be pro-FDA legislation in their 9 page letter.

I stand by my statements that Altria’s pro-FDA regulation stance is logical in the context of a large multi-billion dollar company strategically trying to alter most of the contentious points already in place. Their 9 page letter has been grossly mischaracterized, and many failed to read any of their strong pro-industry statements that made for the majority of the overall statement.  I have not read any publication, editorial, or commentary counterpoint to the Altria statements I quoted in my editorial.

It’s also important to note that Altria’s pro-FDA regulation stance was originally communicated in 2014 and does not represent new information. (Thanks to William Cooper of Cigar-Coop for restating that in various discussions).

I am always welcoming of passionate discussion and debate, and my hope is that anyone engaging in said debate can do so without the harassment or personal attacks that I’ve witnessed being waged across social media since Tuesday.

Cigar Editorial: The Altria Fallout – 2 Days Later
John McTavishCigar Editorial: The Altria Fallout – 2 Days Later

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  • Jeff M. - August 2, 2018 reply

    I ain’t mad at ya’, John!

    I have read the full Altria statement. If I understand correctly, you are trying to give them credit for attempting to improve conditions for all manufactures in a post-regulation world. That in and of itself would be an admirable act, if not for their strong push for regulation that accompanied it.

    While the Altria statement does lay out conditions on how regulations could be evenly applied, none of this matters unless the industry is regulated. I think the issue for many is that even though Altria is pushing for ‘more favorable’ conditions of regulation, they are still pushing for regulation. It’s like inviting a robber to clean out the pockets of you and your friends, but then asking them to be polite and address everyone as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ while doing so. If you have enough money. getting robbed is just an inconvenience. For others, it could leave them penniless.

    John McTavish - August 2, 2018 reply

    Hi Jeff,

    > you are trying to give them credit for attempting to improve conditions for all manufactures in a post-regulation world

    No. This started with Cigar Aficionado’s article and the statements:

    “Given Altria’s dominant position in the cigarette market and the machine-made cigar industry, it is no small wonder it is against aiding handmade cigarmakers,”

    ““Frankly, it’s shameful that this $25 billion company would want to try and harm many of the smaller cigarmakers in order to protect its huge market presence in cigarettes and machine-made cigars. ”

    Along with sloppy attempts to link their cigarette manufacturing with their premium cigar divisions. My original article illustrated how each of these statements didn’t match the comments in the 9 page document.

    > none of this matters unless the industry is regulated.

    My second point is that the stark reality is the industry is currently regulated. My original editorial and this follow-up references that as to why Altria would try and work within existing regulations, instead of trying to overturn those regulations. The outrage is over Altria’s public support of those regulations.

    > It’s like inviting a robber to clean out the pockets of you and your friends,

    It’s like you’ve already been robbed and one friend is arguing to negotiate so you don’t get shot or stabbed. The other friend is arguing that the robber shouldn’t come into the house in the first place, even though he’s already standing in your living room.

    Jeff M. - August 2, 2018 reply

    So, If I’m understanding you correctly, you have accepted that regulation will take place (exemption will not be granted) and are giving Altria credit for trying to improve the conditions. Yes?

    John McTavish - August 2, 2018 reply

    Do I personally believe the FDA legislation will be overturned or that an exemption will pass for premium handmade cigars? No, I think it’s extremely unlikely.

    > are giving Altria credit for trying to improve the conditions

    I wouldn’t phrase it in that way, no.

    I framed it that the 8.5 pages of Altria’s letter to the FDA match the same talking points and initiatives of pro-cigar industry efforts. I also said it makes sense within the context of a very large company to influence changes within that legislation, versus trying to fight the legislation in its entirety.

    Jeff M. - August 2, 2018

    I agree (kinda) with you on both parts. While I think it is unlikely that cigars will be exempted, I think it is still possible. (Do you even Freedom, Bro?)

    It would have been great to see Altria provide input without endorsing regulation. I mean, the purpose of the ANPRM was to gather “…comments, data, research results, or other information that may inform regulatory actions FDA might take with respect to premium cigars.” Nowhere in the ANPRM could I find a solicitation for anyone’s opinion on whether the industry should be regulated or not.

    Like you, I’m left confused by the statement “Given Altria’s dominant position in the cigarette market and the machine-made cigar industry, it is no small wonder it is against aiding handmade cigarmakers,” said Marvin R. Shanken…” but I think the rest of the article (outside of this paragraph) is accurate. Altria did endorse regulation and did agree that warning labels should be on premium cigars.

  • John - August 2, 2018 reply

    tell that to Skip martin

    John McTavish - August 2, 2018 reply

    My Momma always said it takes two to tango.

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