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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Commentary

Eric Newman: A proud day for Cigar City

Published:

I have never been more proud of our Cigar City than during these past several months.

It was so gratifying to see how our community banded together to try to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from enacting regulations that could close Tampa’s last operating cigar factory.

Since 1886, when Vicente Martinez Ybor relocated his factory from Key West to Tampa, Tampa has been known as the “Fine Cigar Capital of the World.” In its heyday, Tampa boasted over 150 cigar factories. Today, our J.C. Newman Ybor City factory is all that remains from our very special historic legacy, and even this factory is under threat of closing due to proposed FDA regulation.

So we embarked on an endeavor to get as many of you as possible to send letters and emails urging FDA to exempt us from regulation. It wasn’t just an effort to save an American factory, as factories close every day for a variety of reasons. This was so much more about a community rallying around an industry that has been its heart, soul and heritage since the 1880s.

You decided that we were not going down without a fight.

Your support and response to our call to action was overwhelming. When we started this campaign, we had no idea that we would receive this level of support from the community.

Thousands of you wrote and emailed FDA to keep the cigar in our Cigar City. The Tampa Bay area’s two major newspapers’ editorial writers, columnists and every area TV station were all incredibly supportive in urging our community to take action. Many local radio stations called to ask how they too could help.

I can’t tell you how many people approached me these past couple of months — some of whom I barely knew — to tell me how much they wanted to help. Even a local billboard company offered us free space to communicate our plea.

We are humbled by your support.

This was a true Tampa community bipartisan effort like I had never seen before. From U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and David Jolly, to Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, to Tampa City Council, the Hillsborough County Commission and every local historic group, everyone voiced a single, unified message: They implored FDA not to shut down Tampa’s last factory in an industry that at one time had been the leading employer and for which the city had become so famous.

FDA’s public comment period is over. It will take FDA six to nine months to review the 82,000 comments it received before it publishes its final rule.

We don’t know what the outcome will be. All I know is that thanks to you, our beloved Tampa community, we gave this our very best effort.

Thank you for responding so forcefully to our call to action.

The last time Tampa was without an operating cigar factory, the population was about 700. That was quite a long time ago. With your help, we are hopeful that Tampa will never again be without a cigar factory and will remain America’s Cigar City forever.

Eric Newman is president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co.

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