Drew Newman Testifies Before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Drew Newman, fourth generation owner of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., testified before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at its public hearing on the proposed Tobacco Product Manufacturing Standards (Cigar Aficionado article; Halfwheel article). From the rolling room at J.C. Newman’s historic El Reloj cigar factory in Tampa, Newman showed how premium cigars are rolled and explained why FDA’s proposed standards won’t work for the small businesses that make up the premium cigar industry.
Good Morning. My name is Drew Newman and I am coming to you from our 113-year-old El Reloj cigar factory in the Cigar City of Tampa, Florida. This is not a virtual background. Behind me we are handcrafting cigars just like my great-grandfather did when we founded our company in 1895.
I want to thank CTP for holding today’s public hearing and allowing small family businesses like ours to testify. I’ve read through the 300 pages in the Federal Register and, in my brief time today, I want to highlight four things:
- Flexibility is essential
- It’s a ton a records
- Qualifying suppliers is difficult
- Batch reports are hard
1. Flexibility is essential.
Throughout the proposed rule, CTP writes that the “proposed requirements are written in general terms” – an “umbrella approach” – to allow manufacturers to tailor them to their own businesses. This is essential. We are a 127-year-old cigar company. The way we handcraft cigars is so different from how cigarettes or ENDS products are made. A one-size-fits-all policy would crush our industry and the small businesses like ours that make up the majority of our industry. Therefore, please keep this flexibility in the final rule.
2. It’s a ton of records.
The proposal would require us to keep detailed records on everything we do, including training, cleaning, staff clothing, pest control, water, product testing, sampling, risk assessments, purchases, and so much more for 4 years. Honestly, this is a tremendous amount of records and work, and cost for small businesses. We would have to hire new staff to record all of this.
3. Qualifying suppliers is difficult.
I’m very nervous about qualifying suppliers. We buy our tobacco from a collection of family farmers from around the world. For example, our Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco is grown by an 8th generation family farmer. Maintaining all of the detailed records of our own activities will be very hard. Doing the same and being responsible for the activities of our tobacco farmers, many of whom do not speak English and live in Latin America will be much worse.
4. Batch reports are hard
The proposal would require us to roll cigars in batches, keep detailed batch records, and put batch codes on every package. No one in our industry does this now, and it would be a big challenge to do so. Here is just one reason why:
- When we roll cigars, we know when they were rolled and who rolled them. It’s on this production card.
- We then age the cigars at least 6-12 months in our aging rooms. Sometimes a lot longer.
- When they come back up to be packed, we mix cigars together and sort them by color so that when you open a box, every cigar inside is the same shade of brown.
- This is how cigars have been made for more than 100 years.
- Batching makes sense when you make, pack, and ship a product all at once. But for products like cigars that are aged and sorted, it’s a lot harder.
As I am running out of time, I’ll put the rest of our concerns in our written comments, but I have some final thoughts:
- My family has been rolling cigars the same way for 100 years. The process hasn’t changed. Our one goal is to roll cigars the same way for another 100 years. We’ll fill out whatever paperwork and keep whatever records are necessary. Just please give us the flexibility to continue rolling cigars like we’ve been doing since 1895.
- If you’d like to learn more, please visit us here in Tampa. Just like wineries and distilleries, we offer guided tours, cigar rolling classes and much more as we work to keep the centuries-old tradition of American cigar making alive.
- Cigars are just like wine. They are a natural agricultural product. Just like with wine, cigar tobacco varies greatly depending on the seed type and the soil where it is grown. The amount of sunlight, wind, and rain also causes cigar tobacco to vary from year to year. As cigar makers, we harness this natural variation to create unique and interesting cigars. It’s an art, not a science. There is no textbook or rulebook. Instead, it’s a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.
He encouraged them to remember the continuum of risk, that we are an industry of small businesses, and that FDA should help businesses not just penalize them.
In celebration of the anniversary of the 1st cigar hand rolled in Tampa, J.C. Newman has recreated the original Sanchez y Haya cigars.
Our new neighbors the Ybor Misfits are preserving the population of the indigineous chickens and roosters of Ybor City.