Why are Cuban cigars illegal?

 Those of you that keep up with current events will know that relations between Cuba and America have been steadily improving. What does this mean for the sale of Cuban cigars in America? And how did we get into this political situation in the first place?

First, a brief history:

-        In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed government and established the first communist regime in the West.

        -        In 1960, the Eisenhower administration began the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

-        In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed off a permanent expansion of the embargo. Interestingly, Kennedy reportedly bought 1,200 Cuban cigars before signing.

 The embargo has prevented Cuban goods from being imported or exported between the two countries for over 50 years. It has stifled communication between the people of both countries.

However, there have been movements to re-establish connections between America and Cuba. Obama called for the end of the embargo in March of this year when he said:

 “The embargo’s going to end. When? I can’t be entirely sure.”

The matter of “when” is a thorny question. While it is ultimately up to Congress to approve the removal of the embargo, Obama’s words mirror the mindset of nearly 60% of Americans. Considering the popular opinion, some media outlets argue that.

Perhaps because of the difficulty of buying them in the U.S., many cigar aficionados hold a near-reverent opinion of Cuban cigars. Over the decades, the embargo has also created a demand for a product that can no longer be met.

Unfortunately, the answer to this demand is not simple.

When will you be able buy Cuban cigars?

Cuban cigars are still not legally for sale in America. While travel restrictions were recently lessened so that people can enter or exit Cuba on legally sanctioned visits, returning tourists can only bring back $100 worth of “contraband”: alcohol and tobacco. A $100 limit is imposed because it is intended to limit the import of such products for personal use only.

Considering the cost of most brands of Cuban cigars, $100 will not buy you much. This is not going to be helpful for merchants wishing to sell them. Obviously, Cuban cigars will be difficult to find legally or at a reasonable price until this policy changes.

Furthermore, when this policy does change, they will probably still not be readily available. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will require that tobacco companies submit a description of all ingredients and processes used to make their cigars. The process usually takes hundreds of hours and may keep Cuban cigars out of circulation for at least two years.


It might be well into the 2020s before Cuban cigars are widely available in America.

However, cigar manufacturers are fighting against these regulations. They argue that their cigars are made with pure tobacco and without harmful chemicals. There is a battle of prudence for the public’s safety versus the importance of a free market. 

Is there anywhere I can buy Cuban cigars now?

Legally? Not likely. Buying them in person or online is still not legal. Many brands of “Cuban cigars” that you can find in America are actually made in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, or China.

For those who think they have struck gold with a merchant who has cheap Cubans (in person or online), pay careful attention to what you are buying; around 80 percent of all “Cuban cigars” sold are counterfeit.

Merchants who claim to have Cuban cigars for sale should be dealt with carefully. Many scammers peddle inferior cigars with fake labels and boxes meant to emulate the look of the real brands. Concerned shoppers across the internet frequently compare cigars in an effort to determine if they have been duped.

 A cigar merchant named Ron wrote in frustration about the Cuban cigar trade:

“Speaking of fakes, I bet less than 1 out of 25 ‘Cuban’ cigars that customers come in and show me are genuine. I feel terrible that they spent money on them but guide them to the counterfeit galleries so they can determine their authenticity themselves. I really think that the even the merchants overseas don’t know they are selling fakes. It is a worldwide issue…”.

It seems that, despite lowering tensions between Cuba and America, Cuban cigars are not and will not be available for at least several years.

Will they be worth the wait?

Regardless, when Cuban cigars are finally made legal and accessible in the U.S., will it really matter? Cigar enthusiasts disagree on whether or not Cubans are overrated. The average level of quality across the market has risen as cigar manufacturers around the world have improved their processes. Manufacturers in places like the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua are actually producing more consistent quality product than Cuba.

Eric Newman, the president of J.C. Newman Cigar Company, said in an interview:

"I'm looking forward to the day they can be sold here. There's been this great myth about Cuban cigars, but ours and even our other competitors' are by and large better and more consistent than the cigars coming out of Cuba today."

A final point to consider is whether or not the popularity of Cubans will wane when they become legal. Part of the allure of Cuban cigars is the fact that they are difficult to buy. When they become readily accessible, there is the question of how long they will continue to be held in such regard.

POSTED ON Oct 14, 2017


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