The J.C. Newman Cigar Company claims to have the nation’s last bale of Cuban tobacco.
Purchased just prior to the U.S. 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 U.S. State Department for permission to do so via an Obama-era program 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 U.S. because they are only rolled through a partnership between Cuba’s state-run Habanos S.A. 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 handroll 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 U.S. government gives us permission, but then we can grow it over time.”
Since Obama started the program to support Cuba’s private sector, the U.S. government has approved the import of coffee and charcoal.