A dramatic shift in diplomatic and economic relations between the United States and Cuba, announced by the White House and Havana on Wednesday, also comes as good news to Americans who’ve been sneaking puffs of banned Cuban cigars for decades. Under the new arrangements, such activities will now be legal.
"Authorized travelers to Cuba will be allowed to return with $400 of general goods and up to $100 of alcohol or tobacco products. That can include cigars," a senior administration confirmed to reporters.
Details of the thawing trade relations will shake out in coming weeks and months, but for the time being selling the tobacco product in the U.S. will remain illegal.
"That authorization is for personal consumption,” the official added, disappointing those hoping to profit from luxury brands such as Romeo Y Julieta and Montecristo.
Washington’s embargo on tobacco products from the island began in 1960, just after the downfall of staunch U.S. ally and dictator Fulgencio Batista, ousted in a revolution led by leftist rebel and cigar aficionado Fidel Castro.
But despite the ban, an underground trade in Cuban cigars thrived.
And while the product remains popular worldwide, the United States still consumes more Cuban cigars than any other country, Greg Zimmerman, secretary of the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retail Association, told NBC.
"It's good news. It's kind of something that the industry has been looking for for a lot of years," Zimmerman added.
But others have a more cautious attitude. David Diamante, owner of Diamante’s cigar lounge in Brooklyn, New York, stressed that American retailers cannot sell Cuban cigars yet.
“This is not a big free for all. This does not mean we can start bringing in box loads of Cuban cigars,” he said. “When the embargo is completely over, then that’s different.”
He also said that Americans have legally been able to enjoy cigars that come close to the famous earthy Cuban taste for years. Tobacco growers who fled the revolution brought Cuban tobacco seeds to nearby countries, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, which export some of the world’s best smokes to the U.S.
“There could be some wonderful new blendings of cigars, but there are some incredible cigars being produced in other parts of the world already,” he said.
“I’m not jumping and clicking my heels,” Diamante added. “The main thing I’m worried about is the quality of life of people living in Cuba.”
On whether the lifting of the cigar embargo will change things for average Cubans, who endure poverty and isolation from their neighbors, Diamante said he wouldn’t speculate.
“This has yet to be seen,” he said. “I think no one really knows.”