Sens. Nelson & Rubio Call on FDA to Save Florida’s Historic Premium Cigar Industry

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In a letter sent to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on Wednesday, Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla), called on the agency to spare their state’s historic premium cigar industry from excessive regulation.

The two Senators centered their argument around the distinction of premium cigars from other tobacco products, and thus should be regulated on their own. The two cited that the premium cigar industry has been a key part of Florida’s economy and history for nearly 150 years. “Florida is home to America’s oldest premium cigar manufacturer, approximately 450 premium cigar retailers, as well as about 90 manufacturers and distributors,” they wrote, adding that they are concerned that those jobs as well as the nearly 10,000 jobs the industry supports will be lost as businesses would face the threat of closure under the current regulations.

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The full text of the letter appears below:

The pair go on to say that while they agree with intent of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products in an attempt to curb youth smoking and use of tobacco products, they cite data the says children aren’t using premium cigars.

“We stand ready to work with the FDA as it continues the rulemaking process, and encourage you to exempt the premium cigar industry, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers and Florida’s historic cigar factory, from the regulatory framework,” they wrote.

In a press release, Eric Newman, president of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. expressed his gratitude to the Senators for their support. “They continue to be unwavering supporters for small, family-owned businesses like ours that make up our industry in Florida,” he said. His brother, Bobby, the company’s executive vice president, said it will cost the company approximately $30 million dollars to be in compliance with FDA regulations, a number that is three times the factory’s annual gross sales.

In 2016, the FDA decided to apply the same massive and costly regulations designed for the cigarette industry to all tobacco products, including Florida’s handcrafted premium cigars. This one-size-fits-all policy simply does not work for an old, artisanal industry like premium cigars. This is why, according to the FDA’s own calculations, regulation is likely to put up to 50% of the cigar industry out of business.

The FDA recently extended the comment period for three Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemakings (ANPRM), including the one regarding whether the agency should reevaluate its regulations on premium cigars. Those are:

The ANPRM for premium cigars covers a variety of issues, including asking for a definition of premium cigar, whether premium cigars have different health impacts from non-premium cigars and whether premium cigars have different use patterns from non-premium cigars.

The letter from Sens. Nelson and Rubio was submitted to the FDA as a formal comment to be included in the public record.

Recently, 33 members of Congress sent a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—which oversees some of FDA’s actions—urging it to extend the comment deadline to September and delay the warning label requirements.

J.C. Newman has also set up a portal for consumers and members of the cigar community to submit their opinion and comments electronically urging FDA to exempt premium cigars.

Featured image courtesy of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, photo by Michael J. Ermarth.

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About the author

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.

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