Tampa has been synonymous with cigars for 130 years. Today, however, excessive government regulation threatens to take the cigars out of Cigar City. Fortunately, there is something that we all can do to help prevent this from happening.
Since Vicente Martinez Ybor first relocated his cigar empire from Key West to Tampa in 1885 and built the world's largest cigar factory on a piece of undeveloped land now known as Ybor City, Tampa has been America's Cigar City.
By the 1920s, Tampa was home to more than 150 cigar factories, rolling more than 500 million cigars a year, making Tampa internationally recognized as the "Cigar Capital of the World." The cigar industry built Tampa from a small village in the late 1800s to the city that it is today.
But due to the Great Depression, industry mechanization, the Cuban embargo, competition from low-wage Latin American countries and massive federal excise taxes, all of Tampa's cigar factories gradually have disappeared — except one — J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is the lone survivor.
My grandfather, J.C. Newman, founded our company in 1895, rolling his first 500 cigars for the family grocer. Today we remain a small, family owned, business with 135 dedicated employees in our historic Ybor City cigar factory.
Today we face our greatest threat: excessive government regulation.
In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided to expand its authority beyond cigarettes. In doing so, the FDA chose to apply the same complex and costly set of regulations designed for the massive cigarette industry to all tobacco products, including the artisanal, hand-crafted premium cigars that we roll in Tampa.
This one-size-fits-all policy does not make sense for our small, boutique industry. The FDA has subjected us to the same warning label, health testing, product standards and other requirements created for the $100 billion cigarette industry. Recent estimates predict that it will cost $30 million just for our Tampa factory.
By its own admission, the FDA concluded that up to half of all cigar companies would be forced to close because of the enormous cost of compliance. If FDA regulations are fully implemented, our Ybor City factory would be one of the casualties — meaning Tampa would no longer be the Cigar City.
All is not lost, but we do need your help. At the urging of Rep. Kathy Castor, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and other members of Congress, the Trump administration is reconsidering the regulation of premium cigars. As part of this process, the FDA has invited the public to comment on premium cigars through June 25. (Visit SaveCigarCity.com to see how to help.)
Recent studies written or funded by the FDA have shown that children do not smoke premium cigars, that premium cigars are smoked infrequently, and that premium cigars do not substantially increase the rate of mortality. Because premium cigars are fundamentally different from other tobacco products, they need to be treated differently too.
Our historic red brick cigar factory, built in 1910, is named "El Reloj" for its distinctive clock tower that can be seen from I-4. We have temporarily covered our giant clock with a large banner that says "Save this Factory," because we need your help in asking the federal government to allow us to keep our historic factory open.
Eric Newman is president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co.