Last week I was greeted by several new emails with links to a new story stating that restrictions on Cuban cigars were being lifted. I read the article and my first thought was, here we go again. This is the second time our President has tried to address the issue of the Cuban Trade Embargo and like his previous foray this one is really much ado about nothing. Yes, these changes have raised the amount of Cuban cigars you can bring back with you, the previous mark was $100. Now, you can bring back whatever you want in both stogies and rum, just remember that anything over $800 will require a duty be paid. Oh, and it will still be a while before you can stroll into your neighborhood ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and grab a Montecristo #2 or Cohiba Behike.
As I have stated in the past, I am very conflicted with the whole Cuban cigar industry. First of all, the quality of Cuban cigars has greatly suffered along with the people under the Castro regime. Does it mean that there are not great cigars still being made in Cuba? No, you can still find great smokes but the chances of you finding them are much more difficult and the chances of having poorly constructed cigars in these high priced sticks are very high. When you purchase a cigar that originates in Nicaragua, Honduras or the Dominican Republic, you almost guarantee that it is going to smoke correctly. This is because almost all the factories in these countries have very high quality control standards. If there are cigars that don’t make the cut, then they are sold at discount prices as factory seconds. In Cuba, this doesn’t happen. If it looks like a cigar it gets a premium band and it goes in the box.
Another advantage that the companies who make cigars for the USA is their access to large amounts of great tobacco, from all corners of the tobacco growing world. If there is an issue in one area, they can just use tobacco from other locations. In Cuba, a few hurricanes and they are in trouble. It’s the old “eggs in one basket” argument.
Look, I am not a Cuban cigar hater or detractor. I have smoked some great Habanos over the years but I am a realist. If they are already struggling to meet their current demand with their longtime business partners in Europe, then what happens when the American market opens up? What will be the quality of the cigars we get and more importantly the price?
If you are excited about this recent announcement and plan on making a trip down to old Havana, I am not telling you to not go or be happy about it. I just want you to be Larry David for a minute and curb your enthusiasm.
Chris Gwaltney, Category Manager: Premium Cigars & Craft Beer
Certified Retail Tobacconist
Follow me on Twitter @abccigarchris