Sun | Jul 25, 2021

Cigar company wants to bring Cuban tobacco back to Tampa

Published:Wednesday | June 16, 2021 | 12:10 AM

The J.C. Newman Cigar Company claims to have the nation’s last bale of Cuban tobacco.

Purchased just prior to the United States government cutting off all business relations with the socialist nation in 1962, the Newman family now stores it in their Ybor City factory basement.

They use it as part of a history tour detailing Tampa’s time as cigar rolling capitol of the world, which was made possible due to the city’s close relationship with Cuba’s tobacco farmers.

The Newmans now hope to import the first bales of Cuban tobacco since the embargo was enacted six decades ago.

They have petitioned the US State Department for permission to do so via an Obama-era programme that allows American businesses to import goods and services produced by Cuban entrepreneurs who operate independently of Cuba’s state-run economy.

Cuban cigars are banned in the US because they are only rolled through a partnership between Cuba’s state-run Habanos SA and London-based Imperial Tobacco.

“There are independent farmers growing tobacco in Cuba, including some independent tobacco farming co-ops,” said Drew Newman, general counsel for J.C. Newman, which is Tampa’s last cigar factory. “Before President Kennedy imposed the Cuban Embargo, my grandfather and great-grandfather imported millions of pounds of Cuban tobacco into the United States through the Port of Tampa.”

To start, they would like to import 10,000 pounds of Cuban tobacco, enough to hand roll 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 it will start off slowly as the US government gives us permission, but then we can grow it over time.”

Since Obama started the programme to support Cuba’s private sector, the US government has approved the import of coffee and charcoal.

The Biden administration is considering allowing Americans to invest in Cuba’s private sector, said John Kavulich, president of the New York-based US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which analyses and predicts business trends between the nations. Currently, US citizens can only donate to the businesses.