In an effort to halt the FDA’s regulation of the premium cigar industry, the J.C. Newman Cigar Company of Tampa, Florida, is relaunching its Save Cigar City campaign. Brothers Eric and Bobby Newman, alongside U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Florida), stood inside the historic El Reloj cigar factory this afternoon and encouraged the public to submit a comment to the FDA asking the agency to spare family-owned cigar factories from burdensome government regulation.
“We’re here today because we want to save our historic cigar factory. We want to save our family business, and more importantly, we want to save the jobs of our employees from the unintended consequences of government over-regulation,” said Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman, during a press conference announcing the campaign. “We’re asking the public to submit comments to the FDA, asking them to tell the FDA that premium cigars should be exempted.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened a commenting period in March after the agency announced it would reconsider its regulatory overhaul of the premium cigar industry. The Newman family, hoping to spread the word, has set up SaveCigarCity.com, which provides suggested wording and a link to the FDA’s website.
The FDA’s commenting period is open until June 25.
J.C. Newman originally launched its Save Cigar City campaign in 2014, when the FDA first considered regulating premium cigars. The grassroots campaign, however, was ultimately unsuccessful. The agency announced it would take regulatory control over the premium cigar industry in 2016. The overhaul of the premium cigar sector—which requires family-owned cigar companies to pay the same user fees and abide by the same sales restrictions as large tobacco corporations—is now slowly going into effect.
In an effort to raise awareness, J.C. Newman has also hung a banner that reads “Save This Factory” over the building’s namesake clock tower and a “Save American Jobs” banner on its neon sign.
“President Trump campaigned on eliminating job-killing regulations that hurt small businesses and whose costs greatly outweigh the benefits,” said Bobby Newman, executive vice president of J.C. Newman, in a press release. “There is no better example of excessive government regulation than the regulation of premium cigars.”
Efforts by the cigar industry and its lobbying organizations have been successful in getting the attention of lawmakers. Drew Newman, Eric’s son and general counsel for J.C. Newman Cigar Co., expressed gratitude towards Rep. Castor, who spoke at today’s press conference, as well as the congressmen who have introduced legislation that seeks to exempt premium cigars.
“We are very grateful to Congresswoman Castor for her leadership in protecting Tampa’s cigar heritage and home industry,” said Newman, in a press release. "As this is a bipartisan issue, we also appreciate the support of lead Republican co-sponsor Congressman Bill Posey and as well as Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, who are championing this effort in the Senate.”
The 108-year-old El Reloj factory is located in Tampa’s Ybor City National Historic Landmark District. When J.C. Newman opened the factory in 1910, Tampa was considered the cigar manufacturing center of the world. In 1920, there were about 150 cigar factories in the city, producing more than 500 million cigars each year. But today, the El Reloj is Tampa’s last remaining cigar factory, which currently employs 135 people to mainly produce machine-made brands such as Rigoletto Black Jacks and Mexican Segundos. (The factory, though, is slowly starting to once again roll premium cigars.)
According to the Newmans, FDA regulation would cost their company an estimated $30 million per year, amounting to three times the factory’s annual gross sales.