The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps that may exempt premium cigars from tobacco regulation – a move that is angering the American Heart Association.

By asking for more information about the high end cigars, the AHA’s CEO Nancy Brown said the FDA is “sending mixed messages on tobacco regulation.”

“In the last couple of weeks, the FDA took promising first steps to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes and regulate flavored tobacco products,” said Brown. “But this plea for more information on premium cigars raises a red flag that the agency is considering exempting some tobacco products from regulation.”

The AHA points to research cited in the FDA’s tobacco deeming rule indicating that all cigar products, including premium versions, can pose serious health risks.

“If the FDA removes these products from their oversight, that action would stand in stark contrast to a concern they expressed in 2016 that these products should be regulated. It would also send a message that premium cigars are somehow safe and not harmful.”

Brown said exempting premium cigars will undermine public health efforts to reduce youth smoking in particular, and potentially motivate more youth to try them.

“It will also create an incentive for manufacturers to manipulate their products, so they’d qualify as “premium” cigars or seek other exemptions. We know all too well that the tobacco industry will exploit every opportunity to evade regulation and to continue to market and sell their deadly products.

“The association strongly disagrees with the FDA’s decision to reexamine premium cigars, especially if it ultimately leads to an exemption. No new research has been issued since the deeming rule that warrants another look at these products or a different decision on their regulatory standing.”