Future of Ybor City cigar company threatened by new proposed FDA regulations

TAMPA, Fla. - Aleida Sanchez has worked in Tampa cigar factories for most of her life.

"When I was 19, I started in the cigar business," she said.

Sanchez now works at the J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Ybor City.

Tampa used to have more than 150 cigar factories. Today only one remains. In business for more than a century, J. C. Newman is located in the historic "El Reloj," or clock tower factory. But new proposed FDA regulations threaten the fourth-generation business and its 130 employees.

"We've gone through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cuban embargo, smoking bans, excessive taxes on cigars, but this one is a tough one," said Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company.

The FDA proposes to require extensive lab testing on new products that aren't considered premium cigars, like hand-rolled cigars. And because J.C. Newman produces multiple sizes and types of cigars, the rigorous testing proposed would prove too costly to remain in business.

"Oh my God, if they close it. Oh my God, what are we going to do?" Sanchez asked.

Newman knows the heritage of Tampa is part of the issue.

"This is the Cigar City. And we're going to need a lot of help to keep cigars in the Cigar City," he said.

Now Newman is urging people to go to www.savecigarcity.com .

There, people can offer their opinions during the FDA's comment period, which runs through Aug. 8.

"You come into our factory, you walk into a time capsule. We're the last of the Mohicans. But we don't want to go quietly. But we can't do it ourselves. We want to inundate the FDA with comments," Newman said.

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