What If? (Legislation Edition)

In earlier “what if” episodes I wrote about owning my own lounge, my own brand and even Habanos. This time I share my thoughts on what I would do if I was a legislator and was writing tobacco legislation.

Now, the easiest thing to do is to remove all tobacco legislation and leave it be. But that is not realistic and its unwanted. I’m in favour of some form of legislation, but it has to be sensible legislation and it has to be fair. Fair compared to other consumable products, as now tobacco is much more controlled than for example fast food, sugar, alcohol (and in some countries or US states, marijuana). And all of these products have known negative effects on health and life expectancy, so controlling one more than another is unfair.

First I would make sure that both the fellow legislators and the general population would start to understand the difference between cigars and cigarettes. Yes, both are made from tobacco but it’s a different kind of tobacco and it’s processed completely different. Cigarette tobacco is very young tobacco, ammonia and other chemicals are added to it, then the tobacco is wrapped in paper and all those chemicals are inhaled. Cigar tobacco is dried, fermented and aged before it’s being used. During the fermentation, the tobacco loses the ammonia, turning the tobacco from acidic to alkaline. Then the leaves are rolled together, no other chemicals are added and there is no paper wrapping. On top of that, the smoke is not inhaled so the delivery of nicotine is completely different. Lumping cigars and cigarettes together is Ludacris. If you follow the same “it is tobacco, so it should be all lumped under the same regulation” mentality that a lot of legislators follow then you should ban people from driving cars if they eat 2 raisin or more. I mean, you are not allowed to drive a car after 2 glasses of wine, wine is made from grapes and so are raisin. This shows how ridiculous the current legislation is in many countries.

So, I would control cigarettes way more than cigars. Pipe tobacco and rolling tobacco would be somewhere in between. Cigarettes and rolling tobacco would have to be tested on a weekly basis to ensure that they don’t exceed certain maximum levels of chemicals. Plain packaging only makes it easier for counterfeit cigarettes, so that would be off the table, but packages must have a minimum of 20 sticks and cigarettes cannot be sold separately. For roll your own and pipe-tobacco, a package would contain a minimum of 25 grams. Flavouring would be prohibited for cigarettes and rolling tobacco and these products would be heavily taxed. Since pipe tobacco can be used to roll cigarettes, this tobacco products has to be taxed the same unfortunately, but flavouring would still be allowed.

Then it comes to cigars. To be considered a cigar, the tobacco has to weigh at least 3 grams and the stick has to be unfiltered. In the past, Scandinavian Tobacco Group created a small cigar with filter, the same size as a cigarette and packaged in a cigarette box to avoid tax in Europe. That screwed manufacturers of small cigars as this ‘break’ brand was the cause for new legislation under which cigarillos were suddenly not considered cigars anymore. To avoid that, no filters are allowed and there is a minimum weight. The cigars have to consist of pure tobacco or HTL wrapper (insert what HTL is). Flavouring or infusing would be allowed.

I would propose a tax based on value, not on weight as some countries do, and a minimum price per SKU, based on the factory price. This to avoid importers or retailers from dumping cigars on the market and flooding the market with cheap product. As for packaging, there would be no legislation at all.

The import of tobacco would be strictly prohibited, only licensed importers are allowed to import tobacco. In person, each traveller would be allowed to bring in 50 cigars max, of which 25 duty-free. For pipe tobacco that limit would be 50 grams with 25 grams duty-free. For cigarettes and rolling tobacco, the limit would be one (open) package.

The sales of tobacco would be limited to specialized tobacconists, to 18+ stores that have a license to sell tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets. So, no more tobacco sales in supermarkets or gas stations. But liquor stores could become tobacco retailers as well, something that is prohibited in many countries such as The Netherlands. These shops however must take measures that tobacco products can’t be seen from the street.

As for online sales, tobacconists with the proper tobacco retail license would be allowed to sell cigars online. But the products can only be seen after login, and to create an account customers have to show proof of age. For some countries that would be 18, for others it would be 21. But once that proof has been provided, logged-in customers would be able to buy what they want. But of course, with the proposed tax and a minimum price per sku, there won’t be such blow-out deals as you now see on some websites regularly. But still, online sales would remain legal and that would help retailers, cigar lovers that live in remote areas and cigar lovers that can’t visit tobacco shops for other reasons.

But that’s about how far I would go when it comes to tobacco legislation. Hookah tobacco could be lumped together with pipe tobacco and when it comes to vape or alternative hookah products instead of tobacco is the problem of another department as they are not tobacco products and should not be considered as such.

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