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Cigar Cos. May Face Tougher Rules

April 14, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ With a new study out saying cigars can pose just as great a health threat as cigarettes, federal regulators are looking at whether cigars merit the kind of restrictions already applied to cigarettes.

Even as Congress and the White House toil over anti-smoking legislation that targets cigarettes, the Federal Trade Commission is examining cigar sales and marketing to see if there is a need for federally mandated warning labels, the FTC chairman said Monday.

``I would think a warning label would be justified if in fact cigars can be as bad for you as cigarettes,″ said Chairman Robert Pitofsky.

The National Cancer Institute issued a study Friday indicating the number of cigar smokers has risen 50 percent since 1993, and that smoking cigars can be just as deadly as smoking cigarettes. While cigarette use has declined, the rate of cigar smoking is relatively high _ especially among teen-agers.

The report said that though cigar smokers inhale less smoke than cigarette smokers, cigars can be just as toxic because they contain up to 90 times as much of some carcinogens.

Some health experts say the primary goal of any new cigar regulation should be to spread the word about the NCI’s findings through warning labels and education programs.

``There’s this level of misperception out there,″ said Michael Eriksen, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

``You have a cigar to celebrate victory and success, when in fact you find that a cigar is really just a big cigarette,″ Eriksen said.

With an eye on rising cigar sales, especially to teen-agers, the FTC earlier this year ordered manufacturers to report how they market cigars, how much they pay to advertise and who is buying.

The FTC received those reports last week, and chairman Pitofsky said that although it is too early for the commission to consider specific new measures, the weakly regulated cigar industry could eventually contend with restrictions that cigarette makers have faced for decades.

Although the federal government requires health warnings for cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, it has no such restrictions on cigars.

Nevertheless, more than 95 percent of cigars sold in the United States already come with health warnings to comply with a 1989 California law, according to Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America. He said he was dubious about any comparisons to cigarettes.

A main concern of Congress and the Clinton administration about cigarette makers _ that they target children and teenagers _ does not apply to cigars, Sharp said. Most of the $15 million spent last year on cigar advertising was in magazines appealing to older smokers, like Cigar Aficionado and Smoke, he said.

``Cigar smokers are mature, well-informed adults″ who know what they’re doing when they light up, he said.

The current anti-smoking bill in the Senate does not target cigars, and Pitofsky said it was unlikely that anti-cigar measures would become part of the current package. The FTC does not yet know when it will report its findings to Congress.

Researchers also have yet to determine if cigars, like cigarettes, are addictive, Pitofsky said. The NCI study draws no conclusions on that.

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