Moral Low Ground


You Can Now Legally Import $100 Worth of Cuban Cigars, Rum

A selection of fine Cuban cigars. (Alex Brown)

A selection of fine Cuban cigars. (Alex Brown)

Cigar and rum aficionados cheered Wednesday when President Barack Obama announced an historic rapprochement with communist Cuba that will lead to greatly improved diplomatic, economic and travel relations between the two long-estranged neighbors.

That’s because under the terms of the détente, it is now legal for US travelers to bring back up to $400 worth of goods — including $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol — when traveling to Cuba.

Long one of the most lamented casualties of the 55-year freeze in relations between Washington and Havana, Cuban cigars are highly coveted and widely regarded as the world’s best. While $100 won’t buy many of the best cigars (between one and six Cohibas, for example), tourists — who still face stringent travel restrictions — will at least now be permitted to enjoy and share a pleasure that was once strictly verboten.

The easing of tobacco and alcohol restrictions will undoubtedly boost Cuba’s cigar industry. Habanos SA, the arm of Cuba’s state tobacco company, Cubatabaco, that controls the promotion, distribution, and export of cigars and other tobacco products, is already enjoying something of a boom, with sales increasing eight percent to $447 million last year.

So will you be able to purchase Cuban cigars at your favorite local cigar shop? Alas, the new rules only allow for the importation of tobacco and alcohol for personal consumption, with no resale allowed.

“We absolutely do not sell Cuban cigars,” Lee Ringelheim, owner of the SoHo Cigar Bar in New York City, told the New York Daily News. “When Cuban trade opens up more fully, it’ll be huge. But we’re not there yet.”

When and if that day comes, cigar lovers across America would rejoice.

“It will be fantastic, obviously,” Rob Norris, CEO of cigar retailer and direct marketer JR Cigar, told CNBC. “Who knows what the news will be or how long it will take to take place, but that would be very exciting.”

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