One of the most symbolic objects of the 50-year Cuban embargo were cigars. Due to its American ban, Cuban cigars have been a luxury item made even more distinctive by its rarity.
Cigar lovers in the U.S. can rejoice – Cubans are now permitted.
Under the new trade normalization rules announced Wednesday by President Obama, tobacco is among the allowed products. Approved travelers will soon be able to bring home $100 of cigars – or rum and any other item.
Since the Kennedy administration, U.S. law has prohibited the import or possession of Cuban cigars – something that, ironically, Fidel Castro was forced to give up 20 years ago due to health reasons.
The $100 limit will likely keep the worldwide price of Cuban cigars steady, Anthony Welsch of Knoxville, Tenn.-based CigarsCity.com tells USA Today.
“I don’t know that we’ll see much of a change, especially early on,” Welsch says.
However, if Obama’s overtures lead to full trade normalization, and regular trade in Cuban cigars, the price could rise dramatically. Then, “the demand for cigars from Americans will rapidly outstrip supply, and as a result, prices would likely increase,” according to Mitchell Orchant, managing director for London’s C.Gars tobacconists.
Among the other changes toward normalization, telecommunication providers will be able to do business in Cuba. Restrictions will be relaxed on air travel to Cuba of commercial flights originating from the USA. Acceptable travel includes family visits, business meetings and trips concerning “support for the Cuban people.”
Reactions on social media to the Cuba-U.S. thaw range from elation for the access to cigars, with the hope of full normalization, to worries about dealing with Cuban political leaders.
For cigar smokers, Cubans are the ultimate, since the island nation is ideal for cigar production. “The unique combination of ‘sun, soil and skill’ indeed define the Cuban cigar as the finest made anywhere in the world,” Orchant says.
As the “the forbidden fruit,” Cuban cigars have risen to near iconic status, says Marvin Shanken, Cigar Aficionado magazine editor and publisher. “The cigar business was born in Cuba, and cigars made in Havana have a worldwide reputation for excellence. We yearn for the day when our readers can have the opportunity to legally buy and enjoy cigars from every country.”
But in 50 years of embargo, Cubans have lost much of its stature as the industry standard, says Paul Garmirian, co-owner of McLean Cigar Boutique in McLean, Va.
“The character of the Cuban cigar has changed as the result of great pressures to meet the demand,” says Garmirian. “The quality of cigars from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua has gone so high that people don’t miss (Cubans).”