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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Eric Newman: Help save the last cigar factory in ‘Cigar City’

In 1885, Tampa was just a small, sleepy village by the Hillsborough River with fewer than 1,000 residents. Tampa would be forever changed that year, however, when a famous cigar maker named Vicente Martinez Ybor sailed up the Gulf Coast from Key West looking for a new place to roll cigars.

Ybor quickly realized that Tampa had the perfect climate for cigar-making and excellent transportation connections, thanks to Henry Plant’s steamship line to Cuba and railroad to the north. With a $5,000 incentive from Tampa’s Board of Trade (today our chamber of commerce), Ybor relocated his cigar empire to Tampa and built the world’s largest cigar factory in undeveloped land now known as Ybor City.

Soon, many other cigar makers followed, quickly transforming Tampa into a burgeoning city. By the 1920s, Tampa was home to more than 150 cigar factories, making Tampa internationally recognized as the “Cigar Capital of the World.”

With tens of thousands of workers, the cigar industry was Tampa’s largest employer. If your family has lived in Tampa long enough, chances are that your ancestors made cigars.

Due to the Great Depression, industry mechanization, the Cuban embargo, competition from low-wage Caribbean countries, and massive federal excise tax increases, one-by-one almost all of Tampa’s cigar factories have disappeared.

J.C. Newman Cigar Company is the lone survivor.

My grandfather, J.C. Newman, founded our company in 1895. We are a small family-owned and operated business with 130 hard-working, dedicated employees who make cigars in our historic Ybor City cigar factory. For 119 years, we have persevered through lots of challenges, but today we face our greatest threat: excessive government regulation.

As you may know, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed heavily regulating cigars just like it does cigarettes. As part of this proposal, however, the FDA is considering exempting “premium cigars” from regulation. Unfortunately, the FDA’s proposed definition of “premium cigar” is so narrow that it would exclude all of the cigars made in our Tampa factory.

Excluding our Tampa cigars from the definition of “premium cigar” was likely an unintentional oversight, but the consequences would be devastating if the FDA does not correct it.

According to the FDA’s own analysis, if we are regulated, it would take us 5,000 hours just to receive approval to sell a single new size or type of cigar. We could also be forced to change our hand-operated, vintage cigar machines, built in the 1930s, to meet modern manufacturing standards, and comply with a host of other requirements.

Together, complying with the proposed regulations would be cost-prohibitive, if not technically impossible. Because of this, our factory — the last cigar factory in Tampa — would be forced to close.

We need your help in keeping our factory open and cigars in “Cigar City.”

The FDA has invited the public to comment on its proposed regulations. To help save our factory, please visit www. SaveCigarCity.com and follow the instructions to tell the FDA to include Tampa-made cigars in the definition of “premium cigars” and exempt them from regulation. It only takes one minute and doesn’t cost a cent. But please do it today — the comment period ends August 8.

Our historic red brick cigar factory, built in 1910, is named “El Reloj” for its distinctive clock tower that is easily visible from I-4. We have temporarily covered our giant clock with a large banner that says “Save This Factory.”

Please help us by visiting www.SaveCigarCity.com and telling the FDA to save our cigar factory before the bell of our famous clock tower and the sounds of Tampa’s cigar heritage are silenced forever.

Eric Newman is president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company and grandson of the company’s founder.

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