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J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Petitions to Import Cuban Tobacco Again

June 7, 2021 By Matthew Tabacco

J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the last operating cigar factory in the “Cigar City” of Tampa, Florida, filed a petition with the U.S. Department of State requesting authorization to import Cuban tobacco grown by “independent Cuban entrepreneurs” into the United States. The State Department currently allows American companies to legally import coffee and a few other products from Cuba. If granted, J.C. Newman will be able to import the first Cuban tobacco into the United States in 60 years.

Drew Newman with the last bale of pre-embargo Cuban tobacco in the United States

“My family has a long history with Cuban tobacco,” said Drew Newman, great-grandson of company founder J.C. Newman. “From 1895 until President Kennedy imposed the Cuban Embargo in 1962, my grandfather and great-grandfather imported millions of pounds of tobacco from Cuba through Tampa. Our last shipment of Cuban tobacco was the subject of a legal dispute decided by the Supreme Court.”

J.C. Newman saved its final bale Cuban tobacco, which is now the last bale of pre-embargo Cuban tobacco in the United States. This sixty-year-old tobacco continues to age in the basement of J.C. Newman’s historic El Reloj cigar factory in Ybor City.

Under the so-called Sec. 515.582 program, the State Department allows “commercial imports of certain specified goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs” in order to “help promote [the Cuban people’s] independence from Cuban authorities.” To help support Cuban independence, J.C. Newman is requesting that the State Department include raw tobacco grown by independent farmers in this program.

“Prior to the Embargo, far more cigars were rolled with Cuban tobacco in Tampa than in Cuba because Tampa was home to the world’s best cigar factories,” said Newman. “Authorizing the importation of raw tobacco grown in Cuba would allow us to support independent Cuban entrepreneurs and to prove, once again, that we can roll better cigars with Cuban tobacco than Cuba can.”

A 1950s box of J.C. Newman’s Cuesta-Rey cigars rolled in Tampa with Cuban tobacco.

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