The new FDA Option 1 allows FDA regulation of premium cigars which, although unexpected, is going to scare a few boutique cigar manufacturers. Nobody in the cigar world is happy about it because basically it’s a seven-year window. A discussion follows on the ruling and how it could alter how people buy cigars and what they smoke. Brothers Zaid and Firas Eid, owners of 708 Cigars, are currently scheduled to sponsor the UFC 200 Party at the legendary Cork and Kerry’s, a legendary southside Chicago bar. They were one of the very first cigar shops to bring the Drew Estates Acid blend into Chicago.
Listen to the podcast here:
Cigar Cafe Radio Podcast FDA Option 1 | 708 Cigars | UFC 200 Party
I’m Lane and I’m hanging out with Sean. Harris had to work, which he occasionally does. We’re going to do it by ourselves. What’s up, Sean? How are you?
What’s going on Lane?
I’m pissed off. I’ve been pissed off for the last 36 hours or so ever since I saw the FDA ruling on option one. You’re going to talk a little bit about it. You have some of your opinions.
I am pissed off too.
I don’t even have notes. I read through skimming over the premium cigar sections of it.
We knew that the FDA was going to put out deeming regulations for tobacco products, but we’ve had some good news. We’ve had some bad news and they never got to the point where they were going to exclude premium cigars, but at one point the predicate date had changed.
At this point, option one has been submitted. It’s been filed. It doesn’t get published for about another four days, but option one is the big hammer.
It’s this most stringent on all tobacco products, which include premium cigars continue because there are probably fifteen lawsuits that are going to be filed.
Rocky Patel is very vocal. IPCPR took a little while to come out with their statement. I guess the first time I saw anything about it was The Cigar Authority had posted an update about it and said, “Here is the 499-page document that was filed on 845. You and me are hanging out here and it’s supposed to be officially published but at this point know what’s in it and nobody in the cigar world is happy about it.
No, basically what it says is that it’s a seven-year window. If a cigar has been on the market for seven years, they’re exempt basically.
It’s not specifically a seven-year window. As I read it, if the brand has existed since 2007 since prior to February of 2007, they are exempt. Their current lines are exempt. Now what ends up happening is that for future lines, those companies are going to have to go out and seek FDA approval, but for all of the boutique companies that are out there that have come along in the last nine years, it’s going to be published on the tenth and there’s a 90-day moratorium period written into it. All of these small companies and some of them aren’t that small anymore, have their lives on the line. These people are employing or using the services of companies that employ people not just here in the US, but in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and Honduras. These regulations are impacting a lot of people who don’t necessarily fall under the scope of the FDA anyway.
There are tobacco growers in the Dominican, Honduras that make premium cigars for lines that we all know and love. There’s probably going to be an injunction on that. If that doesn’t go through, if it’s not favorable, they’re out of work.
There is some level of hope. An act of Congress can override some of the language that’s in this at this point and the lobbyists, the tobacco industry, that’s what they’re going to be going for. They’re going to be pushing for Congress to submit a resolution for exemptions to again change the predicate date which Congress was already working on. There’s some hope in there, but everything that I keep reading, and I presume this is going to boil down to presidential veto power, keeps saying that for anything to stick, we’re going to need a two thirds majority to get past any of this. It’s an election year. Congress is in the dirt right now. Who knows if in the next 90 days that happens? These companies that had been impacted by it, they basically have two years to obtain FDA approval once it takes effect or they cease to exist. They’re done.
Some of the big ones, some of the guys that people know that they’re smoking regularly are going to be effected by that. The Ezra Zions of the world, they’re gone.
What was telling to me as I flipped through the premium cigar portions of the document as to what lengths the FDA went to make sure that the premium cigar industry was included? There were a lot of instances of the surgeon general says that this is not risky, but we disagree. The premium cigar industry says that youthful and young adult smokers aren’t a factor in hand rolled premium cigars. I saw statistic that the average age for someone starting to smoke hand rolled premium cigars is something like 29 years old. That’s a grown up. That’s not who these regulations are intended to protect.
They’re talking about getting rid of some of the ornate packaging that we see in our cigars. They’re talking about going to gray boxes. They’re talking about more intense warning labels on the cigars. Their logic was and this is a near direct quote, I may miss a word or two here, but the context and the exact number remains the same. One of the quotes was that of middle and high school students, 6.7% of the middle and high school students that they queried, said they have a physical dependency or some form of addiction. They have cravings for cigars. They also acknowledged that the cigars that these kids are smoking are mostly cigarillos. We are literally talking about Black and Milds.
Swisher Sweets, cheroots.
That’s what my friends smoked in high school. They smell good, they taste like shit, but it is a product that is out there. Is there some appeal for younger audiences? Probably.
Since this whole thing is going around, I’m more conscious of the manufactured cigar products out there, the Black and Milds, the Swishers, all of those things. I’ve looked at them and seen, do they sell a premium product next to the machine manufacturer product? On almost every occasion, that is no. They’re clearly marketing that in an entirely different audience. There are no Rocky Patel Decades next to Backwoods.
Even if you go into a grocery store in an affluent suburb, we have public stores around that carry some traditional looking cigar and some of them may say made by hand, they are not. As a general rule, a craft product. They may have something set up to the side where they have a real humidor, but you’re right, it’s not at the tobacco line where you’re sitting there asking for your Marlboro Menthol Lights. “By the way, I’ll have an Alec Bradley too the Executive.”
They’re not marketed the same. I was calling you that it is. You’re right it’s a big boy product. It’s an adult product. We never even thought about smoking them in high school or even in college, but that’s the reason why I don’t understand. I just want to say, “Leave us alone. Leave our pastime alone.”
Also, social media crew and everything. One of the guys there is where I saw the initial post, he posted about it on Facebook, and I said, “Time to go read.” There’s been a lot of talk about government overreach, but this fails the smell test. Reading through what I’ve read through, the logic that the FDA has presented to justify this case doesn’t stand up. The area of Birmingham, over the mountain area where Harris operates his stores, where I live, where he lives, there are some very well-off families that live in this general area. I can honestly say I don’t see eighteen and twenty-year-olds in Harris’ shop.
I didn’t see any when I was in there with you. I don’t see any in the cigar shops around here. They’re not there. I have a lot of combined stores and we’ll talk about a great cigar shop that I found not far from me, but we have a lot of combined store cigarettes, vaping, hookah, and then they have a humidor. They don’t even sniff the humidor. They’re not even close to it. They’re 30-feet away from it buying cigarettes.
Looking the other direction.
They don’t even sniff it. Not ever have I seen in the humidor in the hundred times that I’ve been in the humidor have I seen anyone that I appear to be under 30.
Harris’ family, they got started running discount tobacco outlets and stuff like that in the area. They have or have had stores that serviced that market where people came in to get their cigarettes. They do sell some cigarettes in their store, but we’re talking about the premium cigarettes, we’re talking about American Spirit, like Harris has said before, these are basically a craft product to their $7 a pack. In Birmingham, there are not $7 pack cigarettes. If you were to go out and get a pack of cigarettes at whatever gas station, you’re looking at $5 or $6, so $7 is premium. They sell Dunhills which are imported from the UK and they run $10 a pack.
They’re $11.50 or $11.75 here.
Those are not mass market feeding addiction type products.
Those are enjoyment products. They buy one pack for the week.
We talk all the time about how cigar smoking is the last affordable luxury. Here we are with apparently the FDA who doesn’t answer to the surgeon general. They can say in a document, “The surgeon general says this but we disagree and we’re going to push these regulations in an area where we want to be.”
Let’s talk about how that looks if that does go through. Now I’m going to tell everybody that there is a good chance that this will not be settled in the next decade. I’ve read all the things that I’ve read. They’re planning a lock horns pretty tight on this.
None of this will happen before 2018 even if no one protested. No one would go out of business until 2018, except for people who chose to.
Let’s look at the possible landscape here. We sent our first cruise ship to Cuba and it looks in the next year to two years, we’re going to be able to have Cuban cigars here in the United States. If this goes through, we will not have Cuban cigars in the United States from what I know.
It not only applies to cigars manufactured in the US, it also explicitly applies to products imported into the US.
As I’ve read the excerpts of document and I didn’t read the highlight reel, I fast forwarded to the section that applied to us and I read through the meat and potatoes.
I want to tell you that from the cigar guys that are in the business that I know and talk to on a weekly basis; they said it will devastate that influx of Cuban. Now you’re in a situation where you’ve got a lot of regional brands that had been around since 2007. You’ve got some fairly popular and I’m starting to get a hold of them. There are cigar shops that have had their own lines in Portland, in Chicago, in the East Coast, down in Florida that have been around since ‘96, ‘98, which would all fall under that exemption. We are so blessed than the last seven years to have so many cool blends out there, so much diversity and creativity with how they blend, what tobaccos they used. Now do the big companies go, “We got to buy those regional brands because that’s the only new lines we’re going to have. That’s the only new blends we’re going to have.”
That’s one of my questions as far as tactics and logistics go in the next three months. We’ve seen instances where Christian Eiroa sold Camacho to Davidoff. That’s a good example where two companies wanting to move in the same direction. There was an acquisition that occurred and now Camacho is part of Davidoff. Let’s say Rocky Patel likes the way that Clint Aaron‘s company 262 Cigars is going. As Rocky Patel is grandfathered in, does he get to now illicit pressure? We like Rocky. We’re talking about a large cigar company now being in a strategically better position to acquire a smaller company to sneak something in.
Without knowing all the logistics of this, that would seem to be the way. If I were a big cigar company, I would say, “Find me all the popular regional brands that were on the market before 2007 that do fairly well, that have a nice little following. I want samples of all of them because I’m going to buy them; those are going to be my next. We’re going to rebrand them under our branding. We’re going to keep the main brand. It’s going to be a wholly owned subsidiary. It’s still runs mostly. Those are going to be my new blends for the next ten years,” because it’s going to be cheaper for me to buy them than it would be to have every single thing FDA approved.
These are existing blends that are serving a market that is working today that’s worth buying.
I’ve been pretty vocal about my disdain for some of the cigar tobacco places around here and I found one in south suburban Matteson, Illinois that I was floored by. I can’t believe that I went a year and a half without finding them. They would be a perfect example of this type of thing. They own a shop called Tobacco Plus in Matteson, but they also own 708 Cigars and it’s a regional brand. They have retailers in the area, regionally Midwest. They make a cigar that is as good as anybody’s that I’ve had.
You got three or four different of their blends and has smoked one of them so far?
One of them.
Which one did you smoke?
I smoked the Connecticut. A little background, Zaid Eid and Firas Eid are both from Jordan. They started their company in 1996. They are brothers of the leaf. They love cigars. They were one of the very first cigar shops to bring Drew Estate’s Acid Blend into Chicago. They are good friends with Jonathan Drew. They own the company that brought Acid and Drew Estate into the Middle East. They have a shop in Jordan as well. By the way, 600% tax on premium cigars in Jordan. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. They have this Dominican made 708 Cigar that not only they blend themselves but they hand roll themselves. They don’t grow but they manufacture themselves and they sell it here. I had the Connecticut again expecting a Connecticut because I smoked probably, a dozen different Connecticut’s and it was like no other Connecticut blend than I’ve ever had.
I know that you were talking about how one of the brothers, you were almost interviewing him in his store, asking him, “What do you smoke when you’re not smoking your own stuff?” He says, “I’ll put my stuff up against whatever anybody else has. I only smoke my sticks.”
His chin went up, his shoulders dropped back, and he straightened up and said, “Sean, I only smoke my own.” I go, “Seriously.” He goes, “Sean, I will try the different blends that come out but as a pastime, as a recreation, I only smoke my own. Mine will stand toe-to-toe with anyone’s.”
That’s what makes it believable. I know that you’ve got a top five or top ten list of your own and you keep those in your humidor. I’ve got a top five or top ten list. I’ve got three boxes sitting in my humidor of cigars and I was like, “This made the cut, I want to keep it.” Then I’ll go through whatever singles that I get other than that. I’ve got that heavy rotation but he’s right that, “This is what I smoke, this is what I like. I’ll try some other stuff here and there.” Even with the show, I’m probably smoking a new cigar at least once a week, but those other two or three cigars I smoke a week, probably something I know.
Probably something you know and that you enjoy.
It’s different. The ones that I’m trying for the show and stuff like that, I feel like I’m on the clock for them. I smoke them drinking water, take them out back, cleanse the pallet. If I’m going to go out back and smoke a T52 or a Nat Sherman Timeless Nicaraguan, I might pour a glass of bourbon, I might pour some rum. It is a different experience when I’m smoking recreationally versus being on the clock.
With their particular cigars, I’ve got somewhere to go and I was going to bring the Maduro out and smoke that because we’ll be out in the beer garden. I’m like, “I’m not going to do that because the first one I smoked, I literally said, ‘Everyone leave me alone.’” I took water outside. I had my notepad with me. I cut it, felt it in my hand.
I saw the review you wrote on it and it was, it was very thorough.
I wanted to do that for them, but I did tell him though. I said, “I hope you’re right because if I don’t think so, I’m going to let you know.” It was a pleasant surprise. When it’s balls out gin time and they show you their nuts, for lack of a better way of saying it, and it’s backed up with a great product, I was thrilled with it and I’m so glad that I found them. I’ve been back there twice since then. They’ve got a nice selection. They care about their people. There were a lot of guys enjoying themselves. They do rent out lockers so you can have your liquor there, whatever you’re drinking. I want to say it’s about half the size of one of Harris’s stores, but nice crowd. They know their tobacco. I walked in. Firas, I didn’t even know, I walked into humidor and he was smoking with his friends.
He followed me in the humidor. He stopped what he was doing, followed me into the humidor and said, “How you doing? What are you looking for?” I was like, “Thank you. I found you.” I’ve told you I’ve had to beg people sell me a cigar, but the cool thing was I said, “I’m Sean Kavanaugh. I love your store.” I didn’t tell him that I wrote the review. He goes, “You wrote the review.” It was the coolest thing. He showed me around. He showed me what kind of tobaccos that he uses and that they blend their own stuff. He gave me two cigars that are private. I can’t review them so I’m not going to talk much about them but their private blends. I’ve got a couple of those that are cool.
Is this the first time that that’s happened for you where somebody was talking about, be it at the website or the podcast, that they knew exactly who you were because of something you did on the internet? That was a cool moment for me when it happened and it happened locally here. I was at a cigar shop for an event. I probably got introduced as a dozen times as being one of the hosts of Cigar Cafe Radio and I was trying to lay low that day but it was cool knowing that we’re getting a following.
This particular article was seen 400 times in the last 48 hours. It’s obviously being shared amongst their fans. To let everyone know, I’m going to do a review a week for the Maduro, the Habano and their Barber Pole. They have a Barber Pole that has all three of their wrappers. He’s got a lounge line and then he’s got his retail line. The lounge line has got a sweetened cap. It’s like an Asylum. Maybe a little sweeter than an Asylum. Then his retail line is also sweetened, but I would say take the Asylum and ratchet it down 50%. It’s like two to three minutes of a slightly sweetened tip and then it’s gone. You don’t even notice it anymore, which I’m obviously thankful for because I didn’t want the tips to overwhelm the flavor of the cigar and it certainly did not. Harris is going to probably get some samples. I hope that you try one because I think you’re going to like it. The first one was like no Connecticut I’ve ever smoked and in a pleasant way, not in a bad way. That regional GTO is another brand. He’s been around since 2007. He’s been around for a while.
The first one I spoke was probably 2010, maybe a little later. That was exactly what I was about to ask, tying it back into the whole FDA thing. How long is 708 and Brothers Cigars been around?
- He texted me. I texted their cousins. He said, “We’re good.” They’re covered. I’ve never done a cigar event before, but a friend of mine Cork and Kerry Bar on 107th in Western Avenue. It’s a very Irish area in Chicago. They’re one of the focal points for the South Side Irish parade. They’ve got one of the top ten beer gardens in Chicago and he’s never had the UFC fights there. Obviously, the king of the mountain is UFC 200. That’s their flagship event probably since 100 and I thought, “What a great way. Let’s have the fights there because the beer garden is great. There’s TVs all over.” Then I thought, “We’re in a beer garden. Why don’t we have cigars there? Perfect place to have them. You’re outside.”
I thought, “Let’s have it sponsored by somebody.” Originally, I thought Kristoff because they’re local, but after meeting Zaid, I think that this may be a perfect spot for them. They’re talking about bringing in a roller and I’ve never had a hand rolled cigar in front of me. They want to educate people. There’s a captive audience. If it’s a nice night on that Saturday night, there’ll be 500 people in the beer garden. You’ll have a full house and what a better way. They’ve got a vested interest. Their skin’s in the game. They’re only twelve miles south of the bar. A great opportunity for them and a great opportunity for us. They will be able to enjoy them. They’re fun guys.
It’s one thing to put something out, have some online event, get a social media following and then have to ramp up and do that. We’re talking about them having this in their back yard to a market that they can service today. For them, that is probably a great fit.
Nothing against Glen Case or Kristoff, they’re a local company. They’re out west of me. They’ve got a shop, they sell cigars there, they’re a regional brand and they were thrilled with the opportunity and we’re looking at giving people a good experience to watch the fights because it’s going to be a huge night in fights. We’re going to go around $10 a person and each person that wants to pay the $10 to watch the fights out in the beer garden will get two cigars. I don’t know if it’ll be their choice, not mine, but they’ll get two cigars. Women will get two drinks. Even if they’re not huge cigar smokers, they can smoke a premium cigar while they’re there. They can give the other one away if they want. If they’re into cigars, they can have one hand rolled while they’re there. I think it’s going to be a great event. I’m looking forward to it.
Who’s fighting in that fight that night?
You’ve got Jon Jones and Cormier, because they’d knocked Conor McGregor. The Conor McGregor-Diaz rematch. You’ve got Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate, and then you’ve got Chad Mendes and the guy that Conor McGregor knocked out in thirteen seconds.
I saw that fight. I didn’t see it live, but I saw that.
They’re fighting to fight Conor McGregor. The winner, it’s an interim belt. Whoever wins that fight fights Conor McGregor in the next UFC. I wish Conor McGregor was fighting and I’m going to tell you if you wanted to see insanity, you open up Cork and Kerry’s to a Conor Mcgregor fight, Katie bar the door. You would have people that are minor fans of the UFC.
That’s where I am. I’ve been trying to get into it because I’ve never been big into boxing, wrestling or anything like that. MMA stuff is cool. I’ve got a buddy who’s been doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a few years now since we worked together and that’s been four or five years ago or more. We went to Disturbed concert the other night and I had to pick him up at his gym, and it was fun watching. His instructor’s probably in his 50s, maybe 60s, looks like a bodybuilder. He looks like an MMA fighter. He’s broad and he’s wrestling with my buddy on the ground and everything and they take turns who’s on the back, who’s on the top and I’m watching it. He would teach my buddy this move and that move and this is how this works, but it was funny because you could tell he was good because once he would show him something, then it’s now you’re back in an arm bar.
Have you learned to enjoy the sport yet?
I’ve got a head start a little bit because I watched it at its inception. When it first came to be, it was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; the arm bars, the holds and the submissions against wrestling. Wrestling dominated in the ‘90s. A lot of great wrestlers came out and tried and a lot succeeded in UFC because they were such good wrestlers. Boxing didn’t translate very well because the fights always go to the mat and the wrestlers just beat the shit out of the boxers on the mat. What’s great is that the sport has evolved so much that you have to be good in all of them.
You’ve got kickboxing, you’ve got the grappling, you’ve got the groundwork and everything, and you’re absolutely right. It is a complete sport.
Now it is very complete. What I love is that now you have guys that are good in one area competing against guys that are good in another area and you’ve got this strategy. How does someone like a Conor McGregor, who is clearly a brawler, striker, kick boxer type of guy, how does he beat someone that’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling guy? At the top of his game as a kick boxer, but now everyone goes, “He’s not a good wrestler. How do we beat him at his game?” It’s very cool.
How do I get inside so that I can take advantage of at least a perceived weak spot?
It’s very cool and I know what people think, it’s brutal but I like it so much more than boxing.
I’m trying to remember which fight it was. There were two guys that from the looks of thing had great respect and even a friendship between them a couple matches back and they went for a full five rounds and it was a slobberknocker. They both looked like shit at the end of five rounds. One of them would get in close and there’s a whole lot of body blows, a couple face hits.
My wife has a tough time. The Nate Diaz-Conor McGregor fight, Conor McGregor whipped his ass for a round and a half. You can open up a cut on your eye and it doesn’t stop the fight. That thing will bleed the entire match, five minutes of blood flying everywhere. You’ll see a guy’s head down and he’ll be bleeding on the mat while his head is down and it’s pouring out of his head. I removed the brutality of it and go, “What’s the chess match of it?”
I’m looking forward to that. I know we still haven’t got all the logistics worked out and everything, but I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t been in Chicago in fifteen years almost.
I hope you can make it. I want to say probably twenty people that have asked me for tickets already that I’ve half-heartedly mentioned it to them and they’re like, “I’ve got six guys that want to go.” There’s definitely some big interest in it.
Once we get the details worked out, we’ve got to let our social media crew know because everybody has a nearby flight to Chicago.
Not only that, you’re coming to see one of the best UFC cards in history. You’re going to a South Side iconic bar. Cork and Kerry’s been around for 35 or 40 years. You’re getting one of the best beer gardens in Chicago and you’re getting a great night with some great cigar. It’s a win-win. What do you do? You fly in, you fly out the next day, you’re fine.
We get to hang out with you.
That’s the cherry on top of everything.
Some of our cigars will be illegal by then. We can go, we can enjoy whatever it is that we normally enjoy. It could be the last great cigar night ever.
We will be mingling and talking to everybody, telling them what we think about our cigars for sure, the ones that we love. I’ll probably have the details worked out by our next podcast. I think I will. I talked at length about it and I’m going out with the owner of Cork and Kerry’s so we’ll work out a lot of that stuff.
I’ve enjoyed just the two of us talking shit and hanging out. Neither one of us smoked anything, but we had plenty going on.
I’m excited. I don’t know which I’m going to take. I may take the Liga out. I may take a T52 out to be a big dog. I’m not sure yet. I don’t know, we’ll see.
I’m headed to one of my wife’s cousin’s college graduations. I’m going to be schmoozing with family and probably not smoking anything.
Have a great weekend, Lane. It was good to talk to you.
- Clint Aaron
- 262 Cigars
- Tobacco Plus
- 708 Cigars
- Zaid Eid
- Firas Eid
- Acid Blend
- Jonathan Drew
- Nat Sherman Timeless Nicaraguan
- review – 708 Cigar
- Barber Pole
- Cork and Kerry Bar
- Glen Case