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 Last year, outraged citizens sent more than 80,000 messages to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an effort to save Tampa’s last cigar factory from a bureaucratic noose.

Yet the FDA’s decision on the matter still has not been made public, and legislation that would resolve the issue is mired in Congress, despite strong bipartisan support.

The fate of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City is at stake. It is the last working cigar factory in Tampa, which once had 150 factories and was renowned as the Cigar City.

If the FDA does not adopt sensible rules on premium cigars, the factory’s 130 jobs could be lost. So could the city’s association with the cigar industry, which began when Vicente Martinez Ybor relocated his cigar factory from Key West to Tampa in the 1880s.

The situation stems from the FDA’s efforts to develop rules to make it more difficult for the young to buy tobacco as part of the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,” adopted by Congress in 2009.

It makes sense to regulate products that are often promoted to children. But the same restrictions should not apply to “premium cigars,” which are smoked infrequently and are never marketed to minors.

The FDA’s original proposal did offer a narrow exception for premium cigars from the restrictions that would be placed on mass-produced products. But it exempted only hand-rolled cigars and only cigars that cost $10 or more.

This would not cover the Newman factory, which uses machines from the 1930s. The cigars are not mass produced. Workers put the tobacco leaf wrapper onto the machine, which bunches and wraps the cigars.

The company’s cigars, some of which cost less than $10, are a carefully crafted product.

If the FDA does not acknowledge the Newman factory is a small, highly specialized operation, it would be subjected to numerous costly rules, including having to perform 5,000 hours of testing on any new product. As we’ve pointed out, this would be a ridiculous burden, because the company uses only natural tobacco and does not use the chemicals and additives that cigarettes and other tobacco products contain.

Elected officials from both parties have rallied behind the family business.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor has pushed legislation to protect small cigar operations, and Republican Reps. David Jolly of Indian Shores and Dennis Ross of Lakeland are supporting the factory.

Others who have tried to make the factory’s case to the FDA range from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat.

Nobody is asking the FDA to compromise public health. Officials should simply recognize that the facts don’t support an avalanche of regulations on the Newman factory.

If the agency refuses to act responsibly, Congress should.

Last year, outraged citizens sent more than 80,000 messages to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an effort to save Tampa’s last cigar factory from a bureaucratic noose.

Yet the FDA’s decision on the matter still has not been made public, and legislation that would resolve the issue is mired in Congress, despite strong bipartisan support.

The fate of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City is at stake. It is the last working cigar factory in Tampa, which once had 150 factories and was renowned as the Cigar City.

If the FDA does not adopt sensible rules on premium cigars, the factory’s 130 jobs could be lost. So could the city’s association with the cigar industry, which began when Vicente Martinez Ybor relocated his cigar factory from Key West to Tampa in the 1880s.

The situation stems from the FDA’s efforts to develop rules to make it more difficult for the young to buy tobacco as part of the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,” adopted by Congress in 2009.

It makes sense to regulate products that are often promoted to children. But the same restrictions should not apply to “premium cigars,” which are smoked infrequently and are never marketed to minors.

The FDA’s original proposal did offer a narrow exception for premium cigars from the restrictions that would be placed on mass-produced products. But it exempted only hand-rolled cigars and only cigars that cost $10 or more.

This would not cover the Newman factory, which uses machines from the 1930s. The cigars are not mass produced. Workers put the tobacco leaf wrapper onto the machine, which bunches and wraps the cigars.

The company’s cigars, some of which cost less than $10, are a carefully crafted product.

If the FDA does not acknowledge the Newman factory is a small, highly specialized operation, it would be subjected to numerous costly rules, including having to perform 5,000 hours of testing on any new product. As we’ve pointed out, this would be a ridiculous burden, because the company uses only natural tobacco and does not use the chemicals and additives that cigarettes and other tobacco products contain.

Elected officials from both parties have rallied behind the family business.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor has pushed legislation to protect small cigar operations, and Republican Reps. David Jolly of Indian Shores and Dennis Ross of Lakeland are supporting the factory.

Others who have tried to make the factory’s case to the FDA range from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat.

Nobody is asking the FDA to compromise public health. Officials should simply recognize that the facts don’t support an avalanche of regulations on the Newman factory.

If the agency refuses to act responsibly, Congress should.

 

(Source: TBO.com)

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