10 Top Grandfathered Cigars per FDA’s 2016 Cigar Regulations
By John Pullo
The FDA’s extension of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act over premium cigars becomes official Monday (8/8/16). All it took for the agency to include cigars under these new rules was to say it “reserved the right” to do so, which it did with the deeming rule on May 5th of this year; and in doing so, created the new class of cigar that many people have been talking about and that we’re looking at today: grandfathered cigars.
When the original Tobacco Control Act was signed into law on June 22, 2009, FDA was given “authority to regulate the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of tobacco products.” The government was primarily concerned with cigarettes at the time – but since that day, similar regulation has been threatened on the premium cigar world.
So what do I mean by grandfathered cigars? The new FDA cigar rule calls for a predicate date of February 15, 2007. Any cigar that was introduced to the cigar smoking public after that date will be required to undergo an expensive, time-consuming Substantial Equivalence (SE) testing process before 2018 if it’s to remain available for sale in your local cigar shop; and that’s if it’s even approved. The cigars introduced before February 2007? They’ll be considered “grandfathered cigars.”
In general, it breaks down like this:
- Pre-2007/Grandfathered Cigars: these are the cigars that were available for sale before Feb. 15, 2007. FDA can’t require these cigars to meet Substantial Equivalence, but it will require cigar makers to put large health warning labels on the box and submit a list of the cigar’s ingredients. No free samples, either.
- Cigars introduced after Feb. 2007, but before tomorrow (8/8/16): these cigars will be allowed to remain on the market for another two years, but the cigar manufacturer will need to submit the blend for SE approval before 2018. The same warning label requirements and sampling restrictions will apply.
- Starting tomorrow: any cigar maker who wants to bring a new smoke to market will first need to submit his cigar for Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) testing; it cannot be sold while any approval is pending. If the cigar is eventually approved, it will be brought to market; if it isn’t, you’ll likely never see it.
A note about this SE and PMTA testing: FDA hasn’t had a very good track record at doing it. As the Associated Press pointed out in December of 2012, an overwhelming number of cigarette applications – and an inadequate allocation of the resources to conduct and complete their findings on the applications – resulted in zero FDA decisions or rulings over the course of three years. Why is that a big deal? Because FDA had previously estimated that an application would be ruled upon within 90 days of filing1.
Fair warning: I’m no legal or governmental affairs expert, nor do I claim to be one; but this is what I see it meaning for us cigar lovers…with so many cigars coming to market after 2007, the costs of regulation will likely take a bite out of the overall selection: limited editions, small batches and short runs will likely go the way of the buffalo unless the cigar makers find a crafty way around the rules, and whatever costs are incurred would likely (and logically) be passed through the supply chain. The bright spot is that the testing and approval costs aren’t clear yet, according to Jacob Delaplane, a lawyer who specializes in government compliance for clients in the agricultural, healthcare, and land development industries. He figures the worst case scenario to be $100,000 to $300,000 in testing costs for an entire line of a single brand with 5 sizes. “[T]he FDA is somewhat receptive to the idea that different tobacco products should be treated differently as it relates to scientific testing…which drastically reduces the price for laboratory testing,” wrote Delaplane2.
And now, for the Good News…
The cigars you enjoy will continue to grace shelves for another 1 to 2 years, depending on what it is and what the cigar’s maker decides to do with it. What’s left relatively untouched (for now, anyway) are the grandfathered cigars, who show why they’re classics for a reason: they stand tall with clear staying power years after their release. Let’s start with these…
A perpetual top pick among the many in the ACID stable since 2003, Blondie is a tasty 4×38 Petit Corona that’s perfect for introducing a friend to cigars, or a change of pace from your usual routine. A medium bodied mix of infused tobaccos clad in Cameroon wrapper, ACID Blondie hits on big honey and cream notes on its way to a sweet finish. Smoking it might be the best half hour in your entire day.
Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature
Just like Papa, this Hemingway’s been there, done that – and still delivers a smooth, satisfying smoke after all these years. Hemingway Signature combines vintage Dominican tobaccos, rolled to a 6×47 figurado and finished in the genuine article: a Cameroon leaf cultivated in Africa. Fuente’s perfecto still stands as one of the top classic premiums, and is a must-try if you haven’t had the pleasure.
La Gloria Cubana Serie R No. 6
Full body, full flavor cigars were indeed a thing before 2007 – so La Gloria Cubana Serie R will be sticking around, much to the delight of cigar smokers who lean “strong.” Now old enough to have a driver’s license (it came on in 2000), this was an immediate example of how a powerful smoke could still retain smooth and slightly spicy-sweet properties… credit the Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper and a robust Dominican-Nicaraguan mix for that.
Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real No. 2
Well before 2007, Romeo and Juliet decided to spice things up: by bringing Nicaraguan tobaccos into play, this RyJ got a tweak to the more medium side of strength and body. Still made in the DR and still sporting a Connecticut Shade leaf grown in Ecuador, this Romeo Reserva Real torpedo smokes with notes of wood and spice, with an excellent aroma – making these grandfathered cigars a great pick to start your day with coffee.
Montecristo White Churchill
If you always held a sweet spot for the classic Montecristo, things were looking up for you in 2003: that’s the year Montecristo White cigars debuted. Made with a more medium body smoke in mind, the Montecristo White recipe boasted the addition of Nicaraguan tobaccos to the original Dominican long fillers, all finished in a hand-selected Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper. In a word, scrumptious.
Arturo Fuente Chateau Fuente
The ‘90s Cigar Boom called: it wants you back, and it’s using Chateau Fuente as a lure. Fuente once again combines fine Dominican tobaccos and houses them in Ecuadorian-grown Connecticut wrappers, which lend a smooth and aromatic property to each cigar. The cedar sleeves are a nice, aromatic touch, too. This mellow, yet memorable smoke debuted in 1996 to the same acclaim and demand that it gets today.
Padron 1964 Anniversary Maduro Exclusivo
In 1997, Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield; and you, for the first time, bit into a Padron ’64 Anniversary Maduro. Clearly, one was more luxurious than the other – but both remain quite memorable to this day. The latter is a highly-regarded 5 ½x50 robusto made with Padron’s well-aged, all-Nicaraguan tobaccos, clad in a sweet-smoking Habano wrapper that’s been cured to a deep, dark maduro color. Still delicious.
Oliva Serie O Torpedo
It’s good news for Oliva fans, as this Serie O makes the list of grandfathered cigars. Big Nicaraguan flavors are even more noticeable when focused on the palate in this 6 ½ x 52 Torpedo shape: earth, spice, pepper…the gang’s all here. Actually, this one’s Nicaraguan through and through, with a Habano topcoat that adds a semi-sweet, semi-spice taste to the experience. Thankfully, a keeper.
Rocky Patel American Market Selection Robusto
Rocky Patel’s American Market snuck in under the wire (2006), but rocketed to instant fame with its new take on what a “mild Connecticut” was supposed to taste like. Leaning medium with a mix of aged Nicaraguan and Honduran long fillers at its core, Rocky’s AMS pulls on the reins with an Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper – resulting in a smoke that’s creamy, sweet and finishes clean.
CAO CX2 Toro
Surprised that this one makes the grandfathered cigars list? Then this one will blow your mind – CAO CX2 actually came out in 2005, the same year YouTube launched (insert sound of head exploding). We’re dating ourselves here, but no matter: the Cx2 Toro is expertly rolled to a porky 54 ring gauge, and puts out a smoke with medium body and full flavor. Colombian and Nicaraguan tobaccos are bound in Cameroon leaf; then CAO doubles down, and seals it all under a genuine African Cameroon wrapper leaf. That’s more natural sweetness for you. Win-win.
More good news: once this whole FDA thing shakes out and cigar makers decide which of their blends they’ll keep on the market, there will still be hundreds of grandfathered cigars from which to choose – these are just a start. Keep your eye out for more recommendations, and we’ll update you on more FDA news as it hits.
- Michael Felberbaum/Associated Press, “FDA Review of Tobacco Products Grinds to a Halt” – Dec. 13, 2012 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/13/fda-review-tobacco-products/1767043/)
- Jacob Delaplane, “What Will It Cost: FDA Testing for the Premium Cigar Industry” – Jun 30, 2016. (http://www.oahu.law/2016/06/30/what-will-it-cost-fda-testing-for-the-premium-cigar-industry/)