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Cigar City: Tampa's last cigar factory won't go down without a fight

J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is fighting tooth and nail to keep Cigar City alive.

TAMPA, Fla. — If you take a stroll in Ybor City, on the northeast side of Tampa, within the vicinity of North 16th Street and East Columbus Drive, the first thing you’ll notice is the rustic, sweet aroma of tobacco. The scent comes from a red brick building which houses the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. It is the last cigar factory in Tampa.

The cigar industry has gone through several obstacles over the years, which caused many makers to go out of business. But, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. managed to stay afloat.

“This is our 124th year in business,” said Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. “We’ve been through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cuban Embargo, increasing excise taxes and smoking bans.”

These days, cigar companies are dealing with regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We’re kicking and fighting to make sure the FDA doesn’t close down Tampa’s last cigar factory,” Newman explained.

Up until about 10 years ago, tobacco products were not regulated by the FDA. On June 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act. The law gave the FDA power to control how tobacco products are made, marketed and sold. 

On July 26, 2018, Sen. Marco Rubio stood before Congress and asked that premium cigars be removed from the FDA’s regulation list. 

“The regulations were designed to target cigarettes. They were designed for flavored, fat cigarettes and other commonly used tobacco products, the kinds that could potentially be marketed to young people,” Rubio said explaining that the regulations were never meant for premium cigars.

In March, FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, proposed new policies to help steer teenagers from tobacco products, which include e-cigarettes and cigars. 

As of 2019, the proposal is now in the hands of the new FDA Commissioner, Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.  

The proposal cited studies that showed “nearly 1.3 million middle and high school students across the country were current cigar users in 2018.”

Newman disagrees.

“The FDA is concerned about youth access to tobacco and kids smoking cigars. Kids don’t smoke cigars," Newman said, arguing premium cigars are too expensive for teenagers. 

Depending on the brand, the price of a box of premium cigars starts within the range of $250.

Due to all the regulations, J.C. Newman Cigar Co. is currently paying $3,200 a day in user fees. As a result, the prices of premium cigars are on the rise.

“We raise our prices and pass it onto the retailer," Newman explained. "And then he raises his prices and passes it on to the consumer.”

Despite all the ups and downs, Newman is on a mission to keep the last cigar factory in Tampa up and running.

“We’re the last survivors," he said. "We have a responsibility to Tampa. This is Cigar City.”

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