Make us your home page

FDA regulation threatens Tampa's last cigar factory

Does it seem like Tampa spends a lot of time trying to explain itself to the rest of the world?

No, it is not Orlando West or Jacksonville South. Yes, the city has hosted national and international events. No, a real Cuban sandwich cannot include pesto mayo, or avocado, and yes, those are actual chickens running around Ybor City just past a respectable downtown skyline.

And yes, we are an interesting blend of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrant roots, something you don't find just anywhere.

So isn't it typically Tampa that a last remnant of a rich cigar-making history could end because a government agency doesn't quite get us?

This city's last full-scale factory in which cigars are still made stands near Interstate 4 in Ybor City. It is 104 years old and made from iconic red brick, built east to west in that classic cigar factory shape to catch the workaday sunlight through its north-south windows. "El Reloj," they call the place because of the clock in the clock tower. Stepping inside the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is stepping back.

"We're making cigars the same way my grandfather made them 75 years ago," says company president Eric Newman over the low rumbling din of 130 employees at work. On wood floors worn smooth by generations, with the musky scent of tobacco in the air, workers are busy at hand-operated machines from the 1930s making cigars.

"We've gone through world wars, the Great Depression, trying to get forced out by big manufacturers, the Cuban embargo," Newman says. So can they withstand the good intentions of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration?

An FDA effort to regulate cigars and other tobacco products as they do cigarettes to protect minors could unwittingly write the final chapter here. New rules would mean 5,000 hours of testing for any new product in what has become a boutique industry that depends on, you guessed it, new products. Those vintage machines would come under new scrutiny. New fees, the owners say, could be prohibitive.

They worry they will be regulated right out of business.

Boosters point out these cigars are sold at specialty stores and not marketed to minors, and theirs are not the mass market cigars the new regulations are meant for. The Newman family is rallying support, some of it from heavy-hitters like Tampa congresswoman Kathy Castor, who, it would appear, gets cigars.

"This is one of the things that defines Tampa," she says. "You still meet people whose grandfather worked in a cigar factory."

Their hope is that the FDA will agree to include J.C. Newman in a proposed exemption for premium cigars that are handmade and cost $10 or more — even though plenty of theirs cost less. Castor says the FDA needs to hear from Tampa. (You can comment at until Aug. 8.)

I think it's fair to say there's enough Tampa history in these brick walls and in this family business to warrant that exemption.

Sometimes walking through an old place like this is a melancholy trip through dust and what was. But the J.C. Newman company is still very much alive, at least for now.

Save the cigars — and something unique about Tampa while we're at it.

FDA regulation threatens Tampa's last cigar factory 07/08/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 9:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members


    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  3. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion


    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  4. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]
  5. Trigaux: Tampa Bay health care leaders wary of getting too far ahead in disruptive times


    Are attempts to repeal Obamacare dead for the foreseeable future? Might the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now in dire limbo, be revived? Will Medicaid coverage for the most in need be gutted? Can Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and House ever agree to deliver a substitute health care plan that people …

    Natalia Ricabal of Lutz, 12 years old, joined other pediatric cancer patients in Washington in July to urge Congress to protect Medicaid coverage that helped patients like Ricabal fight cancer. She was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in 2013 and has undergone extensive treatments at BayCare's St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa. [Courtesy of BayCare]