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Sunday, Nov 23, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Don’t snuff out cigar industry

Published:

Arbitrary U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules may extinguish Tampa’s last cigar factory.

The outrageous situation could easily be remedied if the FDA would simply adopt accurate language in its proposed regulations for e-cigarettes, flavored tobacco products marketed to children, and small cigars.

No one contests the need to regulate these products, which are often promoted to children. But the regulation should not apply to infrequently smoked “premium cigars.”

The FDA, to its credit, does recognize premium cigars merit an exception from the controls aimed at mass-produced products.

But its inaccurate definition of a premium cigar would snuff out small operations such as the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City while leaving larger manufacturers unscathed.

Newman’s is the last cigar factory in a town that once had 150.

The manufacturers of premium cigars — both large and small — should be left alone.

These cigars are essentially a luxury item that are smoked on special occasions. They pose little health threat.

But FDA’s proposal would exempt only hand-rolled cigars and only cigars that cost $10 or more — a definition that suits large companies with foreign operations employing hundreds of people but ignores the realities of Newman’s modest Tampa operation, which has 130 employees.

The Newman factory utilizes machines that date back to the 1930s, when Tampa was indeed the Cigar City.

But the Newman cigars still are very much a carefully crafted product, with workers laying the tobacco leaf wrapper onto the machine, which bunches and wraps each cigar.

Company President Eric Newman says, “We’re making cigars on machines made in the Great Depression ... These are not mass produced.”

Some of Newman’s cigars cost less than $10, but they still are a premium product. There is no justification for FDA’s capricious price level.

Newman says: “Our cigars are marketed to the same adults as every other premium brand, are sold in the same specialty shops. We use the same tobacco. They are premium products in every way.”

Yet if FDA doesn’t revise its language, Newman would be saddled with burdensome and costly rules, including having to perform 5,000 hours of testing on any new product — though the company only uses natural tobacco, not the chemicals and additives that cigarettes and other tobacco products contain.

And new products, as Newman stresses, are essential to remain competitive.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, is working hard to save the Tampa business. She has pushed legislation that would ensure such small cigar operations were treated fairly.

She has plenty of bipartisan support, including from Republican Rep. Dennis Ross, but getting even the most sensible measure through Congress these days is difficult.

Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera also are trying to help. They wrote FDA about the injustice of the proposal: “The FDA is putting undue and excessive burdens on this family-owned company for no logical reason and forcing J.C. Newman to comply with regulations to compete with national cigarette companies that have greater resources at their disposal.”

FDA is still accepting public comment on the matter, and Newman hopes public pressure will force the administration to relent. The company has put a banner on the clock tower of its historic factory urging citizens to “Save This Factory.” They can get information at www.savecigarcity .com.

But it shouldn’t require a public outcry for the FDA to acknowledge the facts.

As Castor says, “Premium cigars like those made by the Newman’s are not advertised to children. They’re not smoked frequently. People don’t become addicted to them. There is no reason the FDA cannot come up with a premium cigar definition that is appropriate.”

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