The rules have finally been changed on Cuban cigars. The longtime "forbidden fruit" of the cigar industry just became much easier to legally obtain.
Beginning Monday, American travelers will be allowed to return to the United States with just about as many Cuban cigars as they wish. (Cuban rum, too.) This not only applies to trips to Cuba, but for wherever Cuban cigars are sold. That means the fine cigar shops of London, Paris, Geneva, Cancún, Montreal, Dubai and everywhere else in the world are finally open to American cigar aficionados.
News reports have already been published calling this "limitless," which isn't entirely true. You can't fill crates with Montecristo No. 2s and Santiago 11 rum and bring it all home; you can't resell the cigars you bring back; you can't order Cubans off the Internet and have them shipped to the United States; and you can't walk down the street to your local American cigar store and buy a box of Cohibas. You're allowed to bring back what you will use for personal consumption. And remember you have to pay duty on those cigars when you get to the U.S. if you bring quite a bit—the Office of Foreign Asset Controls limits duty-free cigar imports to 100 cigars or $800.
But what a great change. I've been traveling to Cuba since 1996, and I've taken as many as three trips in a single 12-month period. I've gone through a few versions of rules on U.S.-Cuba relations, with as many as 100 cigars allowed and as few as zero. On my latest trips, I've been coming home with my measly $100 worth of Cuban cigars and rum, which isn't much at all. On one trip it was a box of 10 Montecristo Petit No. 2 cigars, which I bought for about $90. On the last trip it was a couple of bottles of rum and a few single cigars. I smoke a lot of cigars, so a few sticks doesn't last me long at all.
This summer I went to Italy, and when I came back I didn't have a single Cuban cigar with me. The law at the time allowed me to smoke Cubans in Italy, but I would have been breaking the law if even one Cuban cigar was on my person upon my return to the United States.
No more. Starting Monday, the Cubans can come back with you.
I've been asked by reporters if this will radically change the cigar industry in the United States. My answer is no. It's an important change, and one that's way overdue, but I don't expect the American cigar smoker to abandon his Nicaraguan, Dominican, Honduran, Mexican or U.S.-made cigars. Our blind tastings have shown, again and again, that the quality of non-Cuban cigars is exceptionally high. Cubans sometimes win our taste tests and our Top 25, but not all the time.
This change brings us one step closer to the day when Cuban cigars will be sold alongside non-Cuban cigars here in the United States. (Ironically, the changes making it easier for Americans to buy Cuban cigars comes at the same time our government, via the FDA, is making it harder for American cigar companies to provide cigars to American consumers. Which makes no sense at all.)
This is not the end of the embargo. But it's a step in the right direction. And a good day for all cigar smokers.