Ban on Cuban cigars goes up in a puff of smoke

Getting your lips around a high quality cigar just got a bit easier.

Today’s announcement that the United States will normalize relations with Cuba means that it will be legal to transport Cuban cigars and other alcohol and tobacco products into the United States. Cuban tobacco and alcohol imports will be capped at $100, while ceiling for all Cuban goods brought back will be $400.

The impact on the cigar industry could be huge. Cuban cigars are considered by many aficionados to among the best, and their availability – at least legally, speaking – could mean a big lift sales.

“It’s going to be massive,” said Christopher Bledsoe, the president and owner of International Cigar Experts, a cigar shipping company. “Ever since we’ve been in business, which has been about 12 years, we consistently have people ask us about Cuban cigars.”

But first, Bledsoe said he’ll consult with the company’s lawyers to figure out exactly what’s allowed. For instance, can it only list Cuban products for sale that are priced below $100?

Cuban cigars have been one of the most controversial products banned by the United States as part of its Cuban embargo, which started in the early 1960s following the rise to power of Communist Fidel Castro. Despite the ban, cigar smokers have gone to great lengths to get their hands on Cohibas and Montecristos.

For instance, President John F. Kennedy, who was famously hawkish on Cuba and who expanded the embargo to ban the import of nearly all goods in 1962, bought 1,200 Cuban cigars just hours before they officially became illegal. More recently, people have bought up Cuban cigars in Mexico or other countries where they are legal, and smuggled them back home in their suitcases.

Now they can light up a Cuban stogie without breaking the law as long as they do so outside or in a spot where it’s otherwise legal.

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