U.S. - Importer tries to get around clove cigarettes ban..

September 8, 2009 - On September 22, 2009 based on the on the new tobacco law,S. 982—The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.., all cigarettes or any of its component parts (including the tobacco, filter, or paper) should no longer contain, as constituent (including a smoke constituent) or additive, an artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke.

Kretek International (KI), the nation's top distributor of clove cigarettes (97 percent of U.S. market) is offering fans a new way to get their fix after the spice-flavored cigarettes are banned at the end of this month—cigars. The New Clove Cigars..

The new filtered cigars—close to the size of a cigarette and flavored with clove, vanilla and cherry—allow KI, which imports Djarum-brand tobacco products from Indonesia, to avoid new federal laws banning flavored cigarettes other than menthol.

The ban on flavored cigarettes, which critics say appeal to teenagers, doesn't include cigars. We wonder why the authors of the new tobacco regulations law did not ban all flavored tobacco products. In addition to cigars these include all types of snuff and dissolvable tobacco products like flavored pellets, toothpicks and edible strips that are placed on the tongue like Listerine breath strips. These are the tobacco items that will immediately catch the attention of our children. We should have learned from the problems the Canadians have had with kids smoking little cigars. During 2007, about 25 percent of that country's 15 to 17-year-olds smoked mini-cigars (cigarillos). (Canadian House of Commons passes bill to prevent production of mini-cigars or cigarillos..)

The difference? Cigarettes are wrapped in thin paper, cigars in tobacco leaves. While the cigars also are made with a different kind of tobacco, the taste is similar. The cigars come 12 to a pack, rather than 20 for cigarettes, but cost nearly half as much.

The ban is one of the first visible effects of a new law signed by President Barack Obama in June that gives the Food and Drug Administration wide-ranging authority to regulate tobacco, though it can't ban nicotine or tobacco outright.

The new law gives the FDA the power to ban other products like flavored cigars, but that hasn't happened yet.

Whether the cigars are truly different or just an attempt to circumvent the ban by making superficial changes is in the hands of the FDA, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "The key is the legislation gives the FDA the authority to respond to these types of frankly totally irresponsible actions," Mr. Myers said.

Mr. Myers joined executives from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Amercian Legacy Foundation late last month urging the FDA to take a closer look at the issue. Often associated with bohemians, clove cigarettes may be the best-known target of the ban. Some major cigarette makers experimented with mint- or chocolate-flavored blends earlier this decade, but many of those products are no longer made after coming under fire, accused of targeting children.

John Geoghegan, director of brand development for Moorpark, Calif.-based Kretek International, said the private company has been "puzzled about (the ban) since the very beginning'' because clove cigarettes constitute less than 1% of cigarettes sold in the U.S. "For people to say, 'Well, clove is a starter cigarette or a trainer cigarette' or something was just preposterous,'' Mr. Geoghegan said, citing company research about when and how consumers begin smoking.

The U.S. market for clove cigarettes is about $140 million annually, with about 1.25 million clove smokers. Cloves have been imported to the U.S. since the 1960s and are mostly smoked by people younger than 30.

While Mr. Geoghegan said clove cigarettes make up about 65% of Kretek International's business, the ban is "damaging but not fatal'' because of the company's other products like lighters and pipe tobacco.

Now, clove smokers are being forced to decide whether to switch to the new cigars, or quit. Many will likely stock up or try to buy the product over the Internet.

And how the ban will work remains a point of contention for shop owners who sell clove cigarettes. But the FDA says the message is clear: Flavored cigarettes are banned, and the agency has the authority necessary to enforce the prohibition.

"So, what do we do with the stuff that's on the shelves? Who eats that? Is it legal to sell until it's gone or what?'' asked Jim Carlson, owner of two CVille Smoke Shop stores in Charlottesville, Va., about 70 miles northwest of Richmond. Mr. Carlson said he sells about 3,000 packs of the flavored cigarettes a year. "You don't make a lot of money, but still it's income ... and it brings customers into the store,'' he said.

Lake Isabella, Calif., resident Terry Day, 42 years old, used to drive 240 miles round-trip to buy clove cigarettes when he lived in rural Valentine, Neb. He said he might try the cigars but was dubious about whether he would like them. "I certainly don't like to be forced into that choice,'' said the clove smoker of 14 years. "I'm probably going to buy me enough to last until Oct. 1, then I'm just going to have to quit."

Reference: Clove Cigars Avoid Ban on Flavored Cigarettes, By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, AP Business Writer, The Wall Street Journal - The Associated Press, 9/7/2009.