COURT RULES FDA CIGAR WARNING LABELS ARE ILLEGAL
Warning labels will not be coming to premium cigars.
Earlier today, U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled in favor of the premium cigar industry in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and its requirements for warning labels on cigars.
A BACKGROUND ON WARNING LABELS
This is the second time in which Mehta has favored the cigar industry in regard to the requirements for warning labels. In July 2018, he ruled to indefinitely delay the warning labels, invalidating in Aug. 8, 2018 requirement that would have required warning labels on cigar boxes and advertising. Now that decision is permanent.
Those requirements would have required cigar boxes to have warning labels affixed to at least two “principal panels,” largely interpreted to the top lid and front side. In addition, all advertising would have to have warning messages that covered 20 percent of the advertising.
This likely would have included traditional forms of advertising—like the ones you see on this site and in magazines—and potentially could have included social media posts, catalogs sent by retailers, promotional emails and likely nearly every other form of communication a cigar company or retailer has with a consumer in a non-face-to-face manner.
Those warning messages would need to rotate between the following messages:
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.
SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Tobacco Use Increases the Risk of Infertility, Stillbirth and Low Birth Weight
Cigar companies were required to submit warning label plans, informing FDA which warning messages it would use on a quarter by quarter basis. These plans would need to be submitted 12 months in advance, meaning companies would need to have their advertising campaigns done a year before they were set to be displayed.
Now all of that is moot.
Mehta ruled on the joint lawsuit, which includes the D.C.-based case (Cigar Association of America et al. v. United States Food and Drug Administration et al.) and the Texas-based case (En Fuego Tobacco Shop et al. v. United States Food and Drug Administration et al.).
First, he evaluated claims of preclusion. In short, FDA argued that the Texas lawsuit was not valid because all three of the plaintiffs—En Fuego, a cigar store in the Dallas area; El Cubano Cigars, a League City, Texas-based cigar manufacturer; and the Texas Cigar Merchants Association—all had ties to one of the plaintiffs in the D.C. lawsuit, specifically the IPCPR, now known as the Premium Cigar Association.
FDA has tried to use this argument numerous times to get the Texas lawsuit—which deals more with questions about whether premium cigars should be regulated differently and warning labels—thrown out.
Mehta denied FDA’s claims.
He summarizes the cigar industry’s challenges as follows:
The warning labels and the 12-month process by which they must be submitted and approved violate the First Amendment
FDA’s warning label plan is arbitrary and capricious and violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that dictates how executive agencies like FDA come up with and enforce rules
An argument that because the law was not signed by the person with the right title, the entire deeming regulations should be thrown out
Ultimately, Mehta rules in favor of the second claim, specifically “that the FDA’s rulemaking was not the product of reasoned decisionmaking and therefore violates the APA.” He, therefore, didn’t fully evaluate the first claim; and the third claim is more of a hail mary other judges have ruled against.
Mehta argues that FDA’s decision to consider whether premium cigars should be exempted—something that was included in the Option 1/Option 2 choice in the 2014 proposed deeming regulations—means that the agency understood that premium cigars may be different. That decision—even if it opted to regulate all cigars the same—meant the agency understood there were differences and needed to take those differents into account when making rules and providing the evidence to justify said rules:
As he has done before, Mehta chastized FDA for not only its lack of evidence and circular arguments in regards to the health dangers of premium cigars but also hinted at the inconsistent signals from FDA regarding whether the agency wants to continue regulating premium cigars.
Mehta’s decision will force FDA to define what constitutes a “premium cigar,” something that will likely be more impactful than the warning label ruling itself.
To date, FDA has declined to define a premium cigar and given Mehta’s decision, it seems likely that other parts of FDA regulations could be modified or removed for premium cigars. Last month, FDA itself hinted at premium cigars, but described them as “relatively expensive, large hand-rolled cigars that do not have flavors (e.g., fruit, candy, or mint)…” The agency said those cigars were its “lowest priority.”
Non-premium cigars will be required to display warning labels in the future. The court will need to approve FDA’s definition of a premium cigar—something that is likely to divide the collective cigar industry—before that can happen.
There are also other lawsuits regarding other parts of the deeming regulations, most notably the battles over substantial equivalence, which is currently set to be due on May 12, 2020.
Both the cigar industry and FDA itself have appeals opposing the May 2020 date, one of which is scheduled for oral arguments for next month.