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Kathy Castor files bill to restore charitable contributions of premium cigars to U.S. troops

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Hillsborough County Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor has filed legislation to reinstate the tradition of donating cigars to U.S. military members who are deployed overseas.

The bill, titled “Restore Charitable Contributions of Premium Cigars to the Troops Act,” is a response to regulations on cigars, e-cigarettes and other products that took effect Aug. 8. Those regulations also include what has been understood to be a ban on the charitable donation of tobacco products.

Two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Times reported the new regulations had prompted Tampa cigar retailers like J.C. Newman and Thompson Cigar to stop donating their products to U.S. troops based overseas, which led Castor to promise to take action when she returned to Washington after the congressional summer break.

“Charitable contributions of traditional, premium cigars to members of the U.S. Armed Forces — a time-honored tradition that dates back to World War I — were recently swept up and disallowed in the Food and Drug Administration’s regulation of a broad range of tobacco products that took effect Aug. 8,” Castor said in a statement Thursday.

“I strongly disagree with the FDA’s ban on premium cigars as charitable gifts to our troops and as donations to nonprofit organizations that in turn use these donations to support our troops.”

Castor also says she supports the Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act, which would exempt individually rolled, premium cigars from regulation by FDA because, unlike other tobacco products brought under the jurisdiction of FDA by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, premium cigars are not marketed to children.

One of those affected by the new regulations was Mark Van Trees of Support the Troops, a Wesley Chapel-based organization that sends items like toiletries and snacks to troops overseas.

“We are the Cigar Capital and cigars are the second-most-requested item by our deployed troops,” said Van Trees, who now only has about a two-month supply to fulfill the 40-pound care packages the organization sends out every day to troops located where they can’t otherwise obtain cigars. “It’s a small way we can show our troops that we’re still thinking about them.

“It’s a nice release, and we receive thank-you letters and pictures.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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