Faced with FDA regulations, Tampa's last cigar-maker seeks help from public

During a quick tour of J.C. Newman’s cigar factory Monday, the pride radiated from company president Eric Newman. He’s the third generation to run the landmark factory, and he’s hoping new FDA regulations don’t make him the last.

“If they require us to pull all of our products off the market, you bet we’ll be shut down,” Newman said.

In 2009, Congress gave FDA the power to regulate tobacco. In 2014, as the agency debated whether to expand the regulations to include premium cigars, Newman hung a banner outside the factory -- from its famous clock tower -- encouraging the public to speak out. 

The FDA gave them the option to submit public comment for consideration. But by 2016, premium cigars were regulated anyway.

Four years and a possible FDA reconsideration later, the banner is hanging a second time.

“Our ask is only two things," Newman said.  “First, that they exempt premium cigars from regulation, and two, include the cigars we make in this Tampa factory in the definition of premium cigars.”

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Congresswoman Kathy Castor is a part of the effort to convince the FDA premium cigars aren’t marketed to kids. She says they should be exempted from the regulations.

“That’s the distinction we have to draw, rather than sweeping up traditional cigars along with all of the other tobacco products that are marketed to kids. And in doing that, we’ll be able to save a lot of jobs,” Rep. Castor said.

The public has until June 25 to submit their comments for FDA review.

LINK: Newman has set up the website savecigarcity.com to help gather comments.