Newman Cigar Company wants to bring Cuban tobacco back to Ybor City
TAMPA – The JC Newman Cigar Company claims to have the last ball of Cuban tobacco country.
Purchased just before the US government cut off all trade with the socialist nation in 1962, the Newman family now stores it in the basement of their Ybor City factory.
They are using it as part of a historic tour detailing Tampa’s time as the cigar-rolling capital of the world, which was made possible thanks to the city’s close relationships with Cuban tobacco growers.
The Newmans now hope to import the first bales of Cuban tobacco since the embargo was enacted six decades ago.
They asked the US State Department for permission to do so through an Obama-era program that allows US companies to import goods and services produced by Cuban entrepreneurs who operate independently of the state economy. Cuban.
Cuban cigars are banned in the United States because they are only rolled through a partnership between Cuban state-owned company Habanos SA and London-based Imperial Tobacco.
“There are independent farmers who grow tobacco in Cuba, including independent tobacco growers,” said Drew Newman, general counsel for JC Newman, which is Tampa’s last cigar factory. “Before President Kennedy imposed the embargo on Cuba, my grandfather and great-grandfather imported millions of pounds of Cuban tobacco into the United States through the port of Tampa.
For starters, they would like to import 10,000 pounds of Cuban tobacco, enough to make 150,000 to 175,000 cigars.
“We’ll take as much as we can get or as little as we can get,” Newman said. “I’m sure this will start slowly as the US government gives us permission to do so, but then we can develop it over time.”
Since Obama launched the Cuban private sector support program, the US government has approved the import of coffee and charcoal.
John Kavulich is the president of the New York-based Cuban-American Economic and Trade Council, which analyzes and predicts trade trends among nations. He said it was a good time for the Newmans to request importation.
The Biden administration, he said, is considering allowing Americans to invest in the Cuban private sector. Currently, US citizens can only donate to businesses.
“This has a positive impact on Newman” Kavulich said. “The Biden administration has an interest in providing more support to the Cuban private sector.”
Yet, Kavulich said, the Cuban government must allow its private farms to sell tobacco to the Newmans.
“They already said no,” he said. “Cuba does not allow the export of honey … and Cubans have been asked repeatedly over the last two years of the Obama administration to allow the export of cocoa beans and they do not have made.”
And Cuba, he added, is “extremely protective of its tobacco”.
Additionally, the US government allows citizens who nationalized their Cuban lands to sue companies that now profit from the property. The Newman said Kavulich, must be certain that the farm of a Cuban partner does not fall within this category.
At its peak in the early 1900s, Tampa had over 150 factories producing over 500 million hand-rolled stogies, mostly using Cuban tobacco.
The Newmans originally kept this last Cuban tobacco bullet as a marketing ploy.
When other cigar factories ran out of Cuban tobacco, the Newmans always advertised they had it, even if nothing was rolled up.
“Allowing the importation of raw tobacco grown in Cuba would allow us and other American cigar makers to support independent Cuban entrepreneurs,” Newman wrote in his petition to the State Department, “and to prove , once again, that we can roll better cigars with Cuban tobacco than Cuba can.