TAMPA, Fla. — The premium cigar industry scored a major legal victory this past week, and that’s welcomed news in spots like Tampa's own Ybor City.
Tampa has a long history of cigar-making, dating back more than 100 years, but a regulatory battle threatened to send the industry up in smoke.
Now, it looks like local cigar makers will be able to keep on rolling — for years to come.
The favorable ruling comes in a case that’s gone on for years now.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration identified a wide range of tobacco products including premium cigars, saying they should be subject to the same type of regulations as cigarettes.
The cigar industry received political support from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and others who asked for an exception – saying those kinds of regulations would wipe out premium cigar makers.
About 17 months ago, three cigar industry groups sued the FDA and this week the judge agreed with them, saying the government ignored data that suggests premium cigars do not appeal to young people, are consumed far less often and don’t pose the same level of health threat associated with cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“I do agree,” Thomas Prewitt said, visiting a Tampa cigar shop, “Because cigar smoking to me is just more relaxing.”
“This is where it all started,” a customer, Robert Walton, said. “I mean, down the street, you’ve got the building where it all started. You’ve got the culture that went behind it. I mean, this is Ybor, definitely 100% known as cigar city.”
One of the oldest cigar makers in our area, J.C. Newman Cigar Company, released a statement saying in part, “For the past five years we have been living in regulatory purgatory.” Thedecision, they added, “… is a landmark ruling that will shape America’s premium cigar industry for generations.”
The judge’s decision did not go so far as to strike down FDA regulation of premium cigars, but the industry hopes that is what will happen after both sides submit legal briefs by July 26th.
After that, the court is expected to issue what it called an appropriate remedy.
In the early 1900s, Ybor City was considered the cigar capital of the world with 200 cigar factories employing 10,000 cigar rollers.
Those factories produced close to a half-billion hand-rolled cigars a year.