It was that noted postmodernist philosopher George Burns who once observed: "Happiness? A good cigar, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman — or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle."
These days, at least, there is precious little joy, or happiness, in Cigar City, as those namby-pambies at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ponder implementing rules that could well doom what's left of the very industry most closely associated with Tampa, if you don't count the floozie cartel. In its heyday, Tampa was home to 150 companies rolling out some of the world's finest guilty pleasures.
We can all agree that anything ingested to excess probably isn't very good for you. But if the FDA gets its way, cigar manufacturers would be subject to the same costly testing restrictions placed on cigarettes, and that would cripple Tampa's only surviving mass producers of cigars, J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which employs 130 workers cranking out some 12 million stogies a year.
Now the FDA would exempt so-called "premium" cigars — those that cost more than $10. But in the FDA's view, less expensive cigars are perhaps more likely to be filled with extraneous ingredients that could be more harmful to the smoker. We can probably conclude that nobody at the FDA has ever enjoyed the simple pleasures of a modest cheroot.
So in a city with a reputation for sin — the debauchery of Gasparilla, which celebrates a fictional rapacious pirate, the bacchanalia that is Ybor City and, of course, the village's single-handed support of the brass pole industry — the professional tsk-tskers of the FDA are threatening to turn the egalitarian nature of relaxing with a nice cigar into consumer class warfare.
If the FDA prevails — and J.C. Newman manages to stay in business — only more affluent customers will be able to afford a $10-plus cigar, effectively shutting out the average stiff who just wants to sit in his back yard with a cold beer and perhaps a $2 perfecto.
These governmental elitists probably also think that unless you pay $40 for a bottle of Chateau Lafite Poo-Poo-Pa-Doo, any lesser wine is pure swill.
My late father loved his Antonio & Cleopatra Grenadiers, of which, to this day, you can buy a box of 50 for $49.99 online. Cheap? Sure, but a pretty good cigar, too, for working-class tastes.
Until Aug. 8, the public (read: irate Tampa cigar aficionados) can post a comment about the proposed U.S. Fuddy Duddy Administration rules on the agency's website. To date, the FDA has received about 38,000 responses.
"We're not going to let a piece of Tampa history be diminished or wiped out by a technical definition," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, told the Tampa Bay Times, which is really a diplomatic way of letting the FDA know Tampa's cigar factories were not only known for the quality of their products, but were also hotbeds for revolutionary fervor.