Sanctions against coveted Cuban cigars lifted in US

Quality control employee Manuel Lamoth, 30, smokes a cigar at the Corona cigar factory in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo)

(CNN) — There’s been a change in regulations of good going between the United States and Cuba. This means that after more than 50 years, it could be time to light up a Cubano — legally — in the U.S.

Starting Monday, American travelers returning from the island will be allowed to bring back some of its most coveted treasures.

Long banned in the U.S., the island’s legendary cigars bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, a bright spot in an otherwise teetering economy.

But many more Americans may soon be lighting up a legal Cuban cigar following a change in regulations that now allows U.S. citizens visiting Cuba, for the first time in over a half century, to bring home an unlimited amount of Cuban tobacco products.

Tobacco farmer Maximo Perez says the loosening of restrictions presents a huge opportunity. “The first thing we have to do with the Americans,” he says, “is create an appetite for our product because they have lost that. But since what we make is excellent, as soon as they try it, they will see the difference.”

The question now is whether Cuba can begin to supply a new market for their famed smokes.

Quality control employee Manuel Lamoth, 30, smokes a cigar at the Corona cigar factory in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo)
Quality control employee Manuel Lamoth, 30, smokes a cigar at the Corona cigar factory in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo)

Much of the work on this tobacco farm is done by hand, the way it has been done here for generations. Cuban producers say that they make some of the best cigars in the world, but that means they can’t cut any corners, and meeting rising U.S. demand could take years.

For Cuban cigar producers, the air is filled with smoke and the realization that the industry needs to prepare for what many hope will be the eventual lifting of all us economic sanctions on Cuba which would allow for the sale of Cuban cigars in the U.S.

“There’s obviously built-up demand and excitement for people to smoke Cuban cigars,” said David Savona, executive editor of Cigar Aficionado. “They haven’t been able to smoke them legally for more than 50 years. I think all cigar smokers in America are going to want to give a legal Cuban cigar a try.”

Executives with the Spanish-Cuban joint venture that sells Cuba’s cigars say that within a few years of the lifting of the U.S. embargo, they could control some 70 percent of the U.S. market for cigars, without compromising their product.

“Quality is something we can never give up,” says Javier Terres of Habanos S.A. “Entering any market, including the U.S. market, will happen with a product of maximum quality.”

Cuba’s cigar producers say their tobacco doesn’t like to be rushed, which means that Americans may have to wait a little longer before they can fully quench their taste for the island’s once forbidden cigars.

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