Businesses critical of FDA tobacco move

- The FDA announced it will start regulating the e-cigarette industry and previously unregulated tobacco products, including pipe tobacco, hookah tobacco, and cigars. 

The federal government says the move is necessary to protect children from the dangers of smoking and nicotine, but the announcement has local business owners very worried about their future.

Six years ago, Tabanero Cigars in Ybor City started hand-rolling its own smokes because owner Yanko Maceda wanted to offer something special.

"It's a superior -- not a better -- superior cigar because you get to blend different leaves," he explained.

But soon, he'll need federal approval to sell each of his tobacco blends.  And the application for that approval could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the government.

"My working capital right now is $25,000," Maceda continued.  "I wouldn't survive that. I don't think so."

Neither would his 12 employees.  But that's the situation he faces after the FDA extended its authority over all tobacco products and e-cigarettes.  The move is necessary, the government said, to keep children from getting addicted to nicotine.  And that's the frustrating part for Griffen Weeks.

"This technology has the potential to save millions of lives," he said.  "And it already has." 

Weeks works at Purely Vapor, an e-cig shop in Tampa.  He says many of their customers started coming there so they could stop smoking.

It worked for Lee Johansen.

"It's silly that they're trying to do something to an industry that's helpful," he offered.

The FDA says it doesn't have definitive evidence that e-cigs help people quit cigarettes.

"We're working hard to learn more, and this step will help us do that. In the meantime, we know that there are many other proven cessation tools that are available," a spokesperson said.

The health debate aside, weeks says the new regulations could put a lot of vape shops out of business as manufacturers drive up the cost of their products to cover the FDA approval fees.

"It's definitely not an easy position to be in right now," he added.

The rules are set to go into effect in 90 days.  But for the cigar industry, they're not final.  Congress has the power to make premium cigars exempt from regulation.

The lobbying wheels are already in motion in that regard, and the Cigar Rights of America group is also preparing legal action against the FDA. 

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