Marco Rubio Talks Cigars On Senate Floor

Marco Rubio Talks Cigars On Senate Floor
Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The plight of the premium cigar industry echoed inside the United States Capitol Building this afternoon, as Senator Marco Rubio argued against FDA regulation and what he called “the epitome of government overreach.” Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Final Deeming Rule was never meant to apply to premium cigars and, if implemented, would threaten the rich tradition of the Cuban community in his state, as well as the livelihood of thousands of small-business retailers and manufacturers across the country.

“This industry is on the verge of extinction,” said Rubio, during a Senate debate over a package of four spending bills for 2019, which includes funding for the FDA.

Rubio explained the history of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, and said the law was never intended to apply to premium cigars. “They meant to go after tobacco products that were mass produced,” he said. “The sad part about it is that everyone knows this. You go to the FDA and they say, ‘Look, we get it. The law was supposed to go after these guys, but that's the way it was written.’ Everyone admits it.” 

During the speech, Rubio spoke about the nature of the premium cigar industry and how it differs from the large tobacco corporations that were the target of FDA laws. “The companies that are involved in this endeavor are not the big companies that we see involved generally in the tobacco industry,” said Rubio. “They're family-owned businesses, both at the retail level and also at the manufacturing level. In addition to all this, they represent a rich part of the cultural history of the Cuban community in Florida.”

Rubio then gave the example of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the owner of Cuesta-Rey and Diamond Crown brands, among others, and its 108-year-old factory in Tampa, Florida. “They've been making [cigars] since 1895,” said Rubio. “And that's going to come to an end in the very near future if this rule goes through.”  

An ardent supporter of the premium cigar industry, Rubio, along with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), introduced legislation last year that would exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation. The proposed legislation, and other bills like it, was ultimately unsuccessful, but Rubio has remained an advocate for the industry. Earlier this month, Rubio and Nelson sent a letter to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the FDA, expressing concern that the agency has “failed to consider” the consequential impact of additional regulations on Florida’s premium cigar industry.

In today’s speech on the Senate floor, Rubio said he would not be including an amendment to exempt premium cigars at this time, as it's already part of the House package that lines up with the Senate appropriations bill. “I'm glad it's in the House version,” he said. “I wish we could get it in the Senate version. We're going to fight to include it in the final version.

“We are not going to stand by and watch as J.C. Newman and small businesses like them are put out of business by a rule that was never supposed to apply to them.”

Click here to watch the full speech.