The Food and Drug Administration's reasonable move to place restrictions on unregulated tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes has inadvertently ensnared a historic Tampa business. The J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which runs the last operating cigar factory in Tampa, is not a mass marketer and its products are not targeted to children. But the regulations proposed by the FDA would either place stiff restrictions on all cigars or exempt premium cigars, a narrowly defined category that does not include the products the Newman company makes at its red-brick Ybor City factory.
Federal regulators should make an exception for Newman company products, which are made following a 75-year-old tradition and sold in boutique retail outlets. The government's well-intentioned efforts to keep tobacco products out of the hands of children should not result in the closure of a historic family business aimed at adults.
In April, the FDA proposed a new rule that would extend regulation to tobacco products that, unlike cigarettes, have not been subject to federal oversight. The rule targets e-cigarettes, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, hookah tobacco and cigars, all products that some public health experts see as gateways to nicotine addiction. Under the new rule, manufacturers would have to register with the FDA, report product and ingredient listings, submit to federal review before marketing new products, include health warnings on packaging and have minimum age and identification restrictions to prevent sales to underage youth. The agency proposed an exemption for premium cigars, which must cost at least $10 per cigar, be handmade and contain no flavors.
The Newman company's 130 employees approach their craft using cigar machines built in the 1930s. The company makes products that do not contain fruity flavors and are sold to adults in cigar stores. The Newman company says components of the FDA's proposal, particularly the cost of performing 5,000 hours of testing before introducing a new product, threaten to put it out of business. The company has asked supporters to bombard the FDA with pleas for an exemption at regulations.gov. The comment period closes Aug. 8.
The FDA's proposed rules are a much-needed attempt to protect the public from the considerable health risks associated with tobacco use. The agency should include cigarillos, little cigars and other low-end cigar products that are really masking as cigarettes in its strictest regulations. But the Newman company should be spared. It is a unique business with tremendous historic significance that cannot be replicated.