FDA ban on sending tobacco blocks cigars for troops

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Groups that donate cigars to troops overseas are not happy about a new FDA regulation that seemingly bans the practice.

Mark Van Trees of "Support the Troops" in Wesley Chapel gets pictures from units thankful for his shipments of goodies, which include cookies, chips, coffee, and cigars.

"They are great. It's a wonderful smell," he said. "It is a reminder of home. I'm half a world away, I am away from my family and my wife and my friends, it is a nice respite, it's a nice relief from the day you have had."

Forty cigars go in each box, which sometimes comes with a humidor, too.

"The second-most requested item we get from the troops is sticks, is cigars," Van Trees said. 

Coffee is the second.

But his supply of cigars dwindling after Thompson Cigars sent four final pallets on Aug. 7, the day before new FDA regulations banned the providing of samples of all tobacco products.

"The FDA has overreached here," said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa). "We have got to send them a message and turn back this law."

Castor is introducing a bill that would carve out an exception for donations to troops. She says the FDA should be targeting tobacco companies that market to kids, not cigars, which are generally only popular with adults.

"I anticipate on this bill we will have bipartisan, widespread support."

Van Trees says with American commitments continuing in both Afghanistan and the Middle East, the least we can do is promise to send them a little piece of the Cigar City.

"Our folks are going to be there, for who-knows-how-much longer, and it doesn't hurt to send them a little bit of home, a little bit of comfort."

Castor is hoping the bill will be passed by the time Congress recesses on Sept. 30. Otherwise, they will have to wait until after the election.