On April 5, 2019, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) held a hearing on premium cigars in Ybor City, Florida. The hearing, titled “Keeping Small, Premium Cigar Businesses Rolling” was the first time a Congressional hearing had been held on premium cigars.
Rubio held the hearing to bring light to the impact regulations are having on premium cigar businesses, and the negative consequences associated with premium cigar businesses if the category isn’t exempt from regulation. During the hearing, he described the premium cigar industry as a “niche within a broader sector.” Understanding the misconceptions many Americans have of premium cigars, the hearing was designed to bring some concerns to public light and offer non-industry insiders a view of the businesses within the premium cigar sector. Rubio reconfirmed his commitment to help keep regulations from continuing to damage cigar businesses.
“A game-changing day and hearing with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, along with members of the U.S. House of Representatives Kathy Castor and Gus Bilirakis, with an excellent panel of experts,” commented Glynn Loope of Cigar Rights of America on the organization’s Facebook page. “Statements for the committee record presented for CRA, Coalition of American Cigar Rollers and The Boutique Cigar Association of America.”
The hearing addressed the concerns of different cigar businesses and the impact the Deeming Rules imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In attendance and offering testimony were several prominent figures in the industry including retailer Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Corona Cigar Co. and Florida Sun Grown (FSG) farm, and Drew Newman, general counsel for J.C. Newman Cigar Company. Both addressed how the FDA’s regulations were impacting their respective businesses, flaws in the implementation and enforcement of the regulations, and their cases for why premium cigars should be exempt from the FDA’s regulatory scope.
“Premium cigars are just 3 percent of the cigar industry and just one half of one percent of the tobacco industry as a whole. We are just a tiny sliver of the tobacco world,” explained Newman. “According to current estimates, it will cost approximately $30 million for our historic Tampa cigar factory to comply with FDA regulation. This is why FDA estimated that regulation would force as much as 50 percent of the cigar industry out of business.”
Newman went on to explain how the premium cigar industry is mostly comprised of what many would consider small businesses and how its premium cigars are produced and sold to 3,000 specialty retailers across the country.
“These are mom-and-pop, small family businesses with just a handful of employees. Our boutique premium cigar industry simply cannot absorb these massive regulatory costs.”
Borysiewicz explained the threat that regulations posed for his business, with the burden of regulations threatening the vitality of businesses like his. He went on to explain how the choice of suppliers gives retailers an advantage though the regulations could force some of those suppliers out of business or consolidation, leading to fewer options for both retailers and consumers. Borysiewicz also touched on the subject of marketing and premium cigars, citing a New England Journal of Medicine study from 2017 that was funded by the FDA that revealed that few children had ever smoked a premium cigar.
Dr. Brad Rodu of University of Louisville and Tobacco Harm Reduction, was also in attendance and spoke on the different risks associated with smoking cigarettes as opposed to cigars and other smokeless tobacco products. Rodu said that smoking patterns were different and that moderate smoking of premium cigars had little impact on someone’s overall health.