Big Tobacco Stuffs Cigars With Cat Litter
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At least a dozen tobacco firms have reportedly saved an estimated $1.1 billion by using fillers such as the clay found in kitty litter or shoving extra tobacco into their products. By adding weight to cigars, the companies are taking advantage of a legal loophole in a 2009 law that spares bigger cigars from a 2,653% tax raise. Sales of larger cigars have nearly doubled since the law went into effect, slowing down a ten-year decline in tobacco use. “It shows what length the tobacco companies will go to avoid taxes and regulation that were designed to improve public health without regard to their customers,” says Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids in Washington. “They should equalize the tax to stop the shenanigans.” Tobacco representatives have denied saving any money on taxes, and insist that the increased consumption of bigger cigars is a result of changing customer demands. The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would not name which 12 companies have switched to larger products, but it maintains that stuffing cigars with fillers is not illegal. “If you meet the definition of a large cigar, then you’re a large cigar,” says Thomas Hogue, a spokesman for the tobacco bureau. “There’s nothing in the Internal Revenue code that goes after the specifics on how that weight is achieved.” But this could soon change. "The FDA is now looking to broaden its rules and regulate additional categories of tobacco products,” said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Haliski. They will release a proposed rule on the issue next month.