The future for European cigar magazines. A week and a half ago, the news came out that the Belgian Cigar Magazine El Gusto was forced to quit under pressure of the FOD Volksgezondheid. That’s the Belgian equivalent of the American FDA, Food and Drug Authority. They used a law from 1977 to label the magazine as tobacco advertising. And after 12 years, the magazine has to be taken off the shelves at newsstands. If not, publisher Ben Vinken could receive a sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine up to 800.000 euro.
There are two other European printed magazines and one online magazine. The printed magazines are the L’Amateur de Cigare, which is published in the French language only. The other printed magazine is Aroma G. Aroma G is published in both French and Dutch. The online magazine is Robusto. We approached all of them, and El Gusto, with questions about the future.
El Gusto and Aroma G
Publisher Ben Vinken replied to our e-mail. He said he knew about the anti-tobacco advertisement law from 1977 when he founded El Gusto 12 years ago. But he’s surprised that for 12 long years, the Belgian government allowed his magazine and all of a sudden it’s considered advertising. He’s throwing the towel because he doesn’t want to go into a lengthy jurisdictional fight. And he’s not considering the publish from outside the EU. Vinken said, “the anti-tobacco movement is at its peak in Belgium”.
In an earlier conversation, Aroma G announced that they won’t be sold on the Belgian market anymore. The Dutch version of the magazine will be available in The Netherlands for now. The French version will be available in France and Luxembourg. The magazine has been around for 7 years. Aroma G did mention that they are reconsidering their options, but no decisions have been made yet. Even though Aroma G didn’t want to respond to our questions, afraid of the negative impact on the market from another article, they did explain a thing or two.
The FOD Volksgezondheid sees a picture of a cigar, with the brand name, like advertising. Even when there’s no advertising paid, or when it’s in the shape of a review. A picture of a cigar without the ring is allowed though. And comparing cigars is out of the question as well. If an article mentions that one cigar is better than the other, it’s advertising according to the government body. So a top 25 is considered advertising, as cigars are ranked. Independent reviews are allowed but without logos or cigar rings.
It’s very hard to get the information from FOD Volksgezondheid, their answers are vague. And if something is wrong, according to them, they fine you. There is no option to appeal, the only way is to go to court. From experience, Ministry of Cigars knows that the Dutch NVWA works in the same way. And that’s an outright shame. These government bodies are founded to protect the general public. And it’s ridiculous that they set rules, yet refuse to explain the rules simple and clear to entrepreneurs that want to abide by those rules. They won’t explain what you can or can’t do, but if they feel you do something wrong, they hit you with fines. And the only way to appeal is through a costly court case. That’s why a lot of tobacconists and distributors decide to pay unfair or unclear fines since it’s cheaper than fighting it in court. It’s not how a society should work, and it’s especially disgusting that official government bodies work in this way.
Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Journal
The two leading cigar magazines, Cigar Aficionado, and Cigar Journal are available in Europe. Cigar Journal has a bigger market share of the two. We called with Reinhold Widmayer, the editor, and publisher of Cigar Journal. Widmayer said that even though he’s sorry to see El Gusto disappear, Cigar Journal won’t be affected by the matter. According to EU law, tobacco magazines are allowed as long as they meet three conditions. Those conditions are: they can’t be headquartered within the E.U., the magazines can’t be printed in the E.U., and not more than 50% of the copies can be sold in the E.U. Cigar Journal meets those three conditions. The magazines are printed in the U.S.A. and China, the headquarters is outside the U.S.A. and more than 50% of the total number of magazines is sold outside of the E.U.
As for El Gusto, we hate to see the magazine disappear. Ben Vinken doesn’t want to go the Cigar Journal route even though there are options since the magazine is published in French as well. That opens markets in Canada and parts of Africa to meet the 50% rule. And with a bi-lingual version of the magazine, just like Cigar Journal does, they could even expand into the United States. Instead, El Gusto throws the towel and lets the nanny state and the anti-tobacco movement win. That’s a sad day for the tobacco industry and the cigar aficionados. We should fight, not give up. All magazines, all online media, all distributors, all retailers, all manufacturers, and all cigar smokers.