Cigar Aficionado

J.C. Newman Fighting To Stay In Tampa

Food and Drug Administration oversight of the United States cigar industry is threatening J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the last major producer of cigars in Tampa, Florida, a city that was built by tobacco. The 119-year-old company does not intend to go down without a fight.

Earlier this week, workers erected two 30-foot-high, 20-foot-wide banners atop the clock tower that dominates the J.C. Newman headquarters, imploring locals to speak out for the factory.

"Can you imagine taking the wine out of Napa Valley or the French out of the French Quarter?" said J.C. Newman president Eric Newman, the third generation in his family to run the company that owns such venerable cigar brands as Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown. "Under the proposed regulations, that is exactly what the FDA will do to Tampa's rich cigar history."

The banner is one of two that will eventually fly from more than 100 feet over Tampa, which used to be the heart of American cigar production and was dubbed Cigar City. (Some 500 million cigars were rolled there in 1929 alone). Today, J.C. Newman is the only company making cigars in Tampa other than tiny operations making a few cigars here or there for the tourist trade.

All of J.C. Newman's handmade cigars are rolled offshore. The Fuente family, J.C. Newman's long-term partners, roll Diamond Crown and Cuesta-Rey cigars for the company. Other brands, such as Brick House, are rolled under contract in Nicaragua. But old machines still operate in Newman's Tampa headquarters, making cigars from mixed-filler tobaccos, homogenized binders and natural wrappers of various types. The company uses Connecticut shade and broadleaf wrappers as well as those grown in Ecuador, buying slightly blemished ones (or those with imperfect color) in order to produce cigars at a lower price than those made with first-grade wrappers. The inexpensive smokes sell under such names as Factory Throwouts, Rigoletto Black Jacks and Mexican Segundos, for around $1.50 apiece.

The cigars are made on antiquated machines that work much slower than modern-day, traditional cigarmaking machines. But the cigars do not meet the criteria for premium cigars, an exemption being considered by the FDA.

"We are unique in the U.S. and the last operating cigar factory in Cigar City, we fall into a dangerous category. We don't fit the premium cigar definition, but since we are an antique operating factory we also don't fit the mass-market niche," said Shanda Lee, vice president of marketing for J.C. Newman. "The banner is hanging on our clock tower that faces one of the busiest interstates with the most densely populated business district in Florida."

The idea is to get the message to the millions of commuters who drive by each day, in hopes of keeping the cigarmaking machines running in Tampa.

To read all about the Newman's factory, read Last Men Standing.

"Does Tampa ever have a Smoke-out like Las Vegas & New York, If not it may be something to consider to start doing. It would have such a large impact for the revenue of Tampa." —July 30, 2014 11:08 AM
"I think you are confusing J.C. Newman's factory with another old cigar factory in Ybor. There are a lot of old factories visible from I-4 and the crosstown that have been turned into other businesses. J.C. Newman has never hung a political flag from their building. Thank you for your support in signing the petition." —July 9, 2014 13:40 PM
"Maybe we will get our cigars from China. Who needs American made anymore. Soon only the upper one percent will be able to afford fine cigars and wine. As for the rest of us, well the hand writing is already on the wall! What is that old saying about history repeating itself? Who was it that helped to destroy Rome?" —July 9, 2014 00:05 AM
"This factory is a beloved cornerstone of the Tampa Bay area and needs to be protected. " —July 3, 2014 13:33 PM
"During the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, the J.C. Newman factory proudly flew a pro-Obama flag from this very same clock tower. I live in the former "Cigar City" and drove past it every day on my way to & from work. Now President Obama's overreaching FDA is going to regulate cigars to the point that our much loved Tampa institution is going to be put out of business. I have signed the petition to the FDA and am hoping for the best, but I think we all know how this goes. When this factory is closed down, the J.C. Newman folks can look at themselves in the mirror, and say that they had a firm hand in electing our President, who sets the tone, and gives direction to our federal agencies. They worked to get a man elected, who will expand the reach of our federal government. Now that monster they created has turned on them. It's a sad day, and there are no winners." —July 3, 2014 11:46 AM