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High-end cigar businesses fear going up in smoke because of ‘harsh’ FDA rules

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High-end cigar businesses fear going up in smoke because of ‘harsh’ FDA rules

YBOR CITY, Fla. – Cigars helped define this neighborhood in Tampa that, in its prime almost a century ago, was known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Home to over 100 factories, the city produced millions of cigars to ship worldwide.

Today, family-owned J.C. Newman Cigar Company is the sole survivor and the oldest premium cigar maker in the U.S. But its fourth-generation owners say their future is now threatened because of regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they are fighting to overturn. The cigar owners are gaining support among prominent lawmakers, to the chagrin of health advocates who claim the industry is putting lives at risk.

“Our company has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cuban Embargo, but proposed FDA regulations would be the nail on the coffin for our factory and 135 employees,” said owner and president of the 124-year-old company, Eric Newman. “These are American jobs…this is all they know…this is all they have.”

Cigars have long been a cultural cornerstone in places like Cuba and the Dominical Republic and, at one point, was a status symbol in the U.S., popular among movers and shakers. But health concerns and tightened regulations have strangled the industry. Owners say the FDA’s well-meaning effort to curb tobacco use by minors became a one-size-fits-all approach, enforcing the same regulations on cigarettes and vaporizers as they do for handcrafted, premium cigars.

The owners say if the FDA rules are not loosened, their industry will die.

“The FDA regulated the entire cigar industry…we have been the unintended victims of this,” said Bobby Newman, Eric’s brother and vice president of the company.

In 2009, Congress gave the FDA the power to regulate the tobacco industry. Prior to the change, new products flowed freely from cigarmakers to store shelves. The Newmans said what happened next wasn’t part of the plan.

In May 2016, the FDA expanded oversight of all tobacco products, including premium cigars, e-cigarettes and other previously unregulated tobacco products.

“This is America…it’s supposed to be of the people by the people for the people, not screw the people…We’ve been screaming and shouting from the rooftops that premium cigars are different than other tobacco products,” Eric Newman said.

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One regulation calls for manufacturers to cover 30 percent of their packaging with a health risk label, something the brothers say would destroy one of the main reasons people buy cigars — for the specialty boxes. After widespread pushback, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia placed a temporary injunction on the rule.

The policy would also prohibit manufacturers from giving out cigars as gifts or samples. They also said the agency imposed new product standard rules that will cost them millions.

“It would cost us $30 million dollars to totally comply with the FDA regulations when we sell $10 million out of this factory,” Eric said. “We need people to stand up for us…”

"We're going to fight like hell to keep our factory from shutting down," said fourth-generation owner Eric Newman, whose factory employs 135 people.

“We’re going to fight like hell to keep our factory from shutting down,” said fourth-generation owner Eric Newman, whose factory employs 135 people.
(Fox News)

The industry has found support, particularly among Florida’s lawmakers. Democratic Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor supports changing the regulations. Having worked on the law, she said it was never meant to apply to premium cigars.

“…The rule went beyond congressional intent and ignored the distinction between traditional handcrafted premium cigars and other products that are marketed to children,” she said. “It is critical that we ensure Tampa’s premium cigar manufacturing industry continues to thrive!”

But health advocates say an exclusion for the specialty industry shouldn’t happen.

“The [FDA] took a long time before it acted to protect the public both from cigars and from e-cigarettes. And, unfortunately, during that delay we saw a dramatic increase in the use of both e-cigarettes and cigars…because there was no oversight of these products for decades, it became the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” said Erika Sward, national assistant vice president of advocacy for The American Lung Association. “We would not stand for a so-called premium car not having airbags or seatbelts just because it had more steel in it to reinforce it. There should be no exceptions for cigars, either.”

A recently released National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that youth use of e-cigarettes fell for the first time in 2016, after skyrocketing since 2011. But data showed that high school boys smoke cigars at a slightly higher rate than cigarettes.

Florida Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have both introduced bills to defend the cigar industry from the regulations.

Florida Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have both introduced bills to defend the cigar industry from the regulations.
(Fox News)

Castor and Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio have both introduced bills to exempt the cigar industry from the burdensome regulations. Senators from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors.

The moves come as the premium industry, once a booming enterprise, has fallen drastically.

In 1895, there were 40,000 federally licensed cigar manufacturers in the United States. Less than 100 remain in business today.

But the Newmans say they won’t go down without a fight.

“We’re David against Goliath…if you don’t fight for your rights, you don’t deserve to win,” said Bobby Newman.

“We’re not going down easy,” added his brother.

The FDA told Fox News it “does not comment on proposed or pending legislation.”

The agency is currently holding a public commenting period through June 17 to receive feedback on the regulatory plan.

The Cigar Association of America, the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association and the Cigar Rights of America, have all joined forces to file a lawsuit against the FDA.

“From the beginning of this process, we have stated that this was a clear case of bureaucratic overreach, with the end goal being nothing short of a modern era prohibition. The regulations looming over this industry, in many ways, are more harsh and burdensome than on those products which Congress actually told the agency to regulate. That’s why we are forced into the courts, halls of Congress and other offices and agencies within the president’s administration to tell our story, make the case for relief, so that we can protect this skilled artisan profession — and the simple enjoyment of a cigar. Honestly, we think there are higher priorities for our government,” said J. Glynn Loope, executive director of Cigar Rights of America.

The Newmans say they hope President Trump delivers on one of his key campaign promises—to crack down on government regulations—so they can stay in business for another 124 years.

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Hundreds of decks of playing cards arrive for Washington state lawmaker who criticized nurses

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Washington state lawmaker riles nurses by saying that some spend 'considerable' time playing cards

The Washington state senator who suggested that some nurses “play cards” during a “considerable” portion of their shifts received more than 600 packages of playing cards Tuesday as backlash over her remarks continued to grow.

The United Parcel Service location in Tumwater, Wash., said that it received 667 packages of playing cards addressed to state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, after an open letter criticizing her remarks circulated on Facebook last week and included Walsh’s P.O. box address, Seattle’s KOMO-TV reported.

“You said that not all nurses deserve breaks as they just sit around playing cards while on shift anyway,” the letter read. “I know nurses who can go all night without food or a bathroom break. I know nurses with nerve damage and back pain from doing whatever it takes to take care of patients. I know nurses who cry in their cars. Do you think that’s where they play cards, Senator Walsh?”

WASHINGTON STATE LAWMAKER RILES NURSES BY SAYING SOME SPEND ‘CONSIDERABLE’ TIME PLAYING CARDS

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

Washington state Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, angered nurses by commenting in a speech that some nurses may spend a lot of time playing cards in rural hospitals. (Associated Press)

The letter went on to predict that after the next election cycle Walsh may find herself with “plenty of time to play cards and plenty of cards to play with.”

Walsh first drew criticism from nursing professionals while debating a bill last week that would require uninterrupted meal and rest breaks for nurses and would also provide mandatory overtime protections for them.

She pushed for an amendment that would exclude hospitals with fewer than 25 beds from the provision, arguing that such small facilities struggle to provide 24-hour care as it is.

“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

Despite the bill being passed with Walsh’s amendment, her ill-received comments sparked a flurry of social media posts mocking her.

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Walsh addressed the issue Monday, apologizing to those who were offended and saying she would spend a day shadowing a nurse throughout his or her 12-hour shift.

“I want to offer my heartfelt apologies to those I offended with my comments on the Senate floor last Tuesday. I was tired, and in the heat of argument on the Senate floor, I said some things about nurses that were taken out of context – but still they crossed the line.”

In 2012, some comments by Walsh on a different subject also went viral, the News Tribune of Tacoma reported. That year Walsh bucked most other members of the state GOP by speaking out in support of same-sex marriage. The state’s House subsequently backed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

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Bernie Sanders wrong about prisoners and voting, ex-con released under Trump reform law says

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Bernie Sanders wrong about prisoners and voting, ex-con released under Trump reform law says

The first man released from prison under President Trump’s criminal justice reform law reacted to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., saying that prisoners should be permitted to vote by noting the “logistical” problems of allowing prisoners serving a sentence to vote and backing prisoners who served their time to have their rights restored.

“I do know while you’re incarcerated you do lose some of your liberties. But my thing is, once a person has been completely released and they paid their debt to society and they are back in society actually functioning, paying taxes, then they should have their rights restored to vote,” Matthew Charles, who was released from prison under the First Step Act, said on Fox News’  “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

KAMALA HARRIS BACKTRACKS, NOW SAYS CRIMINALS LIKE BOSTON BOMBER ‘SHOULD BE DEPRIVED’ OF RIGHT TO VOTE

“But during the period they’re incarcerated, it’s going to be like a complex issue because of the logistics. You got people incarcerated in states that they actually are not from.”

Sanders opened himself to scrutiny this week after saying that not only should incarcerated prisoners be permitted to vote but that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should also be permitted to vote.

“If somebody commits a serious crime, sexual assault, murder, they will be punished. But I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people,” Sanders said Monday on a CNN Town Hall.

Trump’s re-election campaign called out Sanders Wednesday, describing his idea “deeply offensive.”

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“The extremity and radicalism of the 2020 Democrats knows no bounds,” Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News.

“Giving imprisoned terrorists, sex offenders, and murderers the right to vote is an outrageous proposal that is deeply offensive to innocent victims across this country, some of whom lost their lives and are forever disenfranchised by the very killers that 2020 Democrats seek to empower,” she said.

Fox News’ Sally Persons and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.

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George Conway praises Hillary Clinton for her op-ed on Mueller probe: ‘I’m with her’

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George Conway calls Trump a cancer that needs to be removed in blistering op-ed

The husband of top White House official Kellyanne Conway expressed solidarity with Hillary Clinton after the former secretary of state wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Congress to pursue the findings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, telling his followers on Twitter, “I’m with her.”

In the piece published Wednesday afternoon, Clinton called for holding President Trump “accountable for obstructing the investigation and possibly breaking the law” but insisted that choosing between “immediate impeachment or nothing” was a “false choice.” She also referred to the Mueller report as “road map” for Congress.

“It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not,” Clinton wrote. “Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.”

George Conway, who has made a name for himself as an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, praised the 2016 presidential candidate on Twitter and highlighted a portion from her op-ed, where she acknowledged that some may say she’s “not the right messenger.”

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“Perhaps so. Probably so. But if she’s with the Constitution, I’m with her,” Conway tweeted.

Conway regularly slams the president and repeatedly has questioned his mental fitness. The president fired back on Twitter last month.

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