Drew Newman, General counsel and fourth-generation cigar maker, J.C. Newman Cigar Company
By Greg Girard
You represent the fourth generation of your family’s cigar company. What’s it like growing up in the tobacco industry?
It is a real privilege being able to build on the legacy that my great-grandfather started 123 years ago. He passed the business down to my grandfather who then passed it on to my father and uncle who are passing it on to my cousins and me. Growing up in our family business, conversations about the cigar industry were present at every family gathering, whether it be the Thanksgiving dinner table or a birthday celebration. I spent my school holidays at our cigar factory in Tampa, [Florida,] and our family vacations growing up always seemed tied to the business. I started selling cigars on the floor of the RTDA (now IPCPR) trade show in 1993, and I worked for our family business part time in a wide range of roles for more than 20 years before I joined J.C. Newman full time in 2017.
What’s been your biggest challenge working in the industry?
The best part about the cigar industry is that we roll cigars by hand today exactly like my great-grandfather did a century ago. This slow process and art form has not changed in the past 100 years. This is also the biggest challenge in working in our industry. Despite all of the advances in modern technology, the premium cigar industry is still extremely slow and deliberate. The process of growing tobacco cannot be sped up. You cannot rush the natural fermentation process. Rolling a cigar by hand is slow. Then, you have to wait months to age a cigar before it can be sold. Because of this, it can take a year or more just to develop a new blend, and if a certain size suddenly becomes popular, you cannot flip a switch and instantly make more like you can with widgets. Handcrafting cigars takes a lot of time, just like it did 100 years ago, and this slowness can be quite frustrating.
You’ve been a spokesman for the industry with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies recently. Given your consistent interaction with regulators, what do you think the future of our industry will look like in five to 10 years?
Since my great-grandfather founded our family business in 1895, we have weathered two world wars, the Great Depression, the rise of cigarettes, smoking bans, the Cigar Boom and many other economic challenges. FDA regulation is a major threat to our industry because applying the exhaustive and costly regulatory scheme developed for cigarettes to premium cigars simply does not work. Every month, I am in Washington, D.C., working alongside our industry partners to help educate our government leaders on the tradition of handcrafted cigars and how they are fundamentally different from every other tobacco product. I am optimistic that we will ultimately receive relief from FDA regulation in the next five to 10 years, but it will require all of us to continue working very hard to achieve this goal.
What has you most excited about J.C. Newman for 2019?
As a four-generation, 123-year-old family company, we have a long-term vision. We do not do anything for short-term gain. Our ultimate goal is being in business for another four generations and 100 years. Because of this, what excites me about 2019 is that we will be laying the groundwork to prepare for our company’s 125th anniversary in 2020. We will be spending next year developing some incredible new cigars, building our J.C. Newman brand and renovating our 108-year-old historic cigar factory in Tampa in preparation for our 125th anniversary celebration.
Tell us your “first cigar” story. When, where, how, etc.
As a kid growing up in our family cigar business, I had no desire to smoke cigars. As I saw it, smoking cigars was what my father and grandfather—old people—did. It never seemed cool or appealed to me as a minor. Even when I turned 18 and could legally purchase a cigar, I was in no rush to try one. I enjoyed my first cigar a few weeks before my 19th birthday with my father. It was a Cuesta-Rey No. 47, which our longtime partners, the Fuente family, used to roll for us. The cigar was truly outstanding! Sadly, we discontinued that size many years ago, as I would love to enjoy it again.