- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2014

CRAIG, Montana | Many Washingtonians abandon the city the week of Labor Day for beaches, mountains, rivers and lakes, where they can enjoy themselves, unwind and recharge. The business of the city, politics and government, takes up on their return, but the annual respite is welcome.

However, it is increasingly difficult to escape the consequences of Washington’s foolishness even in the remotest corners of the republic. I trade the city for the friendly environs of Montana with her Big Sky, majestic mountains and trout-laden rivers and streams. While I enjoy the time away from Washington, each year I am reminded in new ways that federal busybodies are almost impossible to escape as they mess with the freedoms that many normal folks value and enjoy.

A long day on one of Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams followed by a steak cooked over a fire is hard to beat, especially if the meal is followed by a glass of good bourbon and a fine cigar. As the sun sets in the west, one shouldn’t have to worry about how such days may be relegated to the trash heap of history if Washington bureaucrats get their way.

Washington politicians have declared many a domestic war over the years and lost more than a few of them — the War on Poverty comes to mind — but that hasn’t stopped them. President Obama’s liberal progressives are fighting new wars on several fronts, such as the wars against coal, “climate change,” unpatriotic corporations, guns, classroom bullies and local police.

The ongoing war on tobacco was once assumed to be a “limited” war on cigarettes, but has expanded to a general war on tobacco in its many and varied forms, as well as on e-cigarettes, which may not use tobacco, but look like they do. The social popularity of cigars has proved particularly irksome to the anti-tobacco crowd, which lobbied the Obama administration and the Food and Drug Administration to do something to prevent a form of smoking that seemed too visibly enjoyable to allow.

A 2009 law allowing the FDA the power to regulate some tobacco products opened the door, and at the end of August, the comment period on new regulations on a number of products, including cigars, closed with more than 80,000 comments arguing that the regulations are unneeded, unwise and an attack on the freedom to light up after a good meal. If Winston Churchill were alive, he could have at last utilized the honorary citizenship granted him by Congress to join the attack on governmental overreach.

The prohibitionists wanted to halt cigar-smoking in all its forms, but lobbyists for the well-heeled got the Obama administration to modify the regulations to exempt “premium” cigars costing more than 10 bucks apiece. That will allow the do-gooders among us to make it more expensive and far more difficult for the poor to enjoy a good cigar while the professional and political elites continue to puff away. It’s a bit like denouncing the use of alcohol, banning the production of jug wines and exempting expensive vintage wines and good scotch from the burdens of the regulatory state.

If the final rules are implemented, bureaucrats at the FDA have already essentially announced that this is only a first step, a victorious but minor skirmish in an unfinished war on tobacco that will end when the affluent, like the poor, can be denied access to the evil weed.

Steps under consideration include massive health warnings, the elimination of online cigar sales, the banning of single-cigar sales to keep folks from wandering into their favorite cigar retailer after a good dinner to buy just one good cigar, and the outlawing of walk-in humidors in shops so cigars are behind a counter and under glass where they can perhaps be seen but not savored.

The FDA is using rules written to require “premarket approval” of drugs to suggest that launching any new cigar should subject the manufacturer to rules and regulations that could cost millions and delay the introduction of the cigar by years. The FDA itself says these regulations will impact some 77 percent of all cigars now on the market because the rules would be retroactive to 2007.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi calls the proposed rules the very definition of governmental overreach, in part because their implementation would probably close down the last domestic producer in Florida. She is too kind. The rules and the goal are outrageous.

The 13 million cigar smokers in the United States today overwhelmingly limit their smoking to a cigar now and then to celebrate or enjoy a fine day or a good meal. As I sat beside Montana’s Missouri River last week enjoying a very good non-premium cigar that cost me significantly less than 10 bucks, I wondered if what the government wants to eliminate is not the cigar, but the enjoyment we get from them when we sit back and light up.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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