MURPHY, LARSON, COURTNEY CALL FOR ACTION TO PROTECT CONNECTICUT SHADE TOBACCO INDUSTRY FROM ‘DECEPTIVE’ MISLABELING BY FOREIGN COMPETITORS

Connecticut tobacco growers are being undercut by foreign growers who are mislabeling products as “Connecticut” products

WASHINGTON – After hearing from concerned Connecticut residents and farmers that foreign-grown tobacco products are being mislabeled as “Connecticut” products, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), U.S. Representative John Larson (CT-1), and U.S. Representative Joe Courtney (CT-2) called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take action to enforce existing regulations on tobacco labeling and prevent foreign competitors from undercutting Connecticut growers. In a letter addressed to FDA Acting Commissioner Dr. Stephen Ostroff and FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen, the members of Congress warned that the unfair and deceptive mislabeling practices of foreign growers is endangering the economic vitality of Connecticut’s tobacco growers.

“We write to you today after hearing concerns from our constituents regarding the mislabeling of foreign cigar products. Connecticut shade tobacco seeds are now not only grown in Connecticut and other areas of the Northeast, but also in Ecuador and other parts of Central and Latin America…,” wrote the members of Congress. “The uniqueness of Connecticut shade tobacco is due to the specific environment in which it is grown. Given existing authorities and the responsibilities of your agencies, we urge you to investigate the misbranding of Connecticut shade tobacco products and take action to curb this deceptive practice. While there are myriad challenges facing farmers, being undercut by foreign growers is a clear threat to the long-term viability of the Connecticut shade tobacco industry.”

The full text of the letter is available online and below:

March 6, 2017

Dr. Stephen Ostroff                                                                        Maureen K. Ohlhausen
Acting Commissioner                                                                      Acting Chairman
Food and Drug Administration                                                           Federal Trade Commission
10903 New Hampshire Ave                                                               600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Silver Spring, MD 20993                                                                  Washington, DC 20580

Dear Acting Commissioner Ostroff and Acting Chairman Ohlhausen,

We write to you today after hearing concerns from our constituents regarding the mislabeling of foreign cigar products. Connecticut shade tobacco seeds are now not only grown in Connecticut and other areas of the Northeast, but also in Ecuador and other parts of Central and Latin America. Different soils and climate conditions cause cigars made with U.S. Connecticut shade tobacco to taste vastly different than foreign grown Connecticut shade tobacco, despite the fact that the seeds may be the same. However, labels on these cigars are often unclear as to the origin of the shade tobacco. Furthermore, labels contain the word “Connecticut” regardless of where the tobacco is grown, further confusing consumers and undercutting Connecticut growers.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both play vital roles in enforcing existing regulations on tobacco labeling and advertising. Under 15 U.S. Code § 45, the FTC has broad authority to prevent “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce”. Furthermore, under Section 903 of the Tobacco Control Act a tobacco product can be deemed misbranded if its advertising is false or misleading. Given these existing authorities and the responsibilities of your agencies, we urge you to investigate the misbranding of Connecticut shade tobacco products and take action to curb this deceptive practice.

Connecticut shade tobacco, which is used as a wrapper for premium cigars, is renowned worldwide for its superior quality and unique flavor profile. That distinctive quality and flavor clearly derives from the specific soil and climate conditions in the Connecticut River Valley, which is why we believe that a protected geographic indicator for Connecticut shade tobacco is justified. Such indicators in product names are unnecessary when the connection between climate or soil and the ultimate taste of the product is unclear, as is the case for cheese, but the uniqueness of Connecticut shade tobacco is due to the specific environment in which it is grown. Since the 1630s, tobacco farmers have been growing Connecticut shade tobacco in and around the Connecticut River Valley. The early techniques of covering crops under shade tents have changed little in the past 100 years, contributing to the iconic nature of this crop. Today, Connecticut tobacco farming supports over 800 jobs and 5,000 seasonal workers. Collectively, the industry supports $47.4 million in direct sales and has an economic impact of $85 million.

Despite the importance of this crop to the premium cigar industry, Connecticut farmers are struggling. For example, Connecticut’s largest tobacco farm did not plant a crop this past growing year and is selling off land as a result of foreign competition, in part, exacerbated by unfair or deceptive acts. While there are a myriad of challenges facing farmers, being undercut by foreign growers is a clear threat to the long-term viability of the Connecticut shade tobacco industry. We urge you to use the tools that your agencies have to investigate this issue and take action to prevent further harm to growers in our state.         

Sincerely,                                      

Christopher S. Murphy                                                                      
United States Senator
                                                                        
John B. Larson
Member of Congress   
                                                  
Joe Courtney                                                              
Member of Congress

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