New York (MainStreet) -- Last week the Obama administration loosened the U.S.-Cuba embargo. Now qualified visitors to the island are allowed to come home with up to $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco products each.
Around here that means just one thing: cigars. Soon people will be able to start moving these highly sought, semi-legendary smokes back across the border one handful at a time. Here are a few things to know before they make the round at your next bachelor party:
Retailers can’t get them… yet
The import ban has only been lifted for personal consumption. Shops can’t import Cubans onto their shelves even in small amounts, not yet at any rate. With an embassy opening in Havana and travel restrictions slowly loosening, tobacco lovers have reason to hope that it’s just a matter of time before the last barriers fall.
$100 per person isn’t a lot, not when it comes to a good Cuban cigar at any rate. These "habanos" can cost as much as $25 or more depending on size and quality, with particularly elite brands climbing to over $50 apiece.
Unfortunately, this will put a pretty hard cap on how many of these cigars can leak into the United States. With each traveler only able to bring home an average of four, it’ll take more than showing up with a six pack if you want your friend to share.
Americans can get them anyway
But remember, it’s your home address that keeps you from smoking a Cuban, not your passport. Americans can still get and buy the cigars outside of the United States.
Take a trip up to Canada, Mexico or just about anywhere else in the world and what is an elusive, sought after commodity becomes just another item in the tobacco store. Shops in Paris and London stock the things regularly, enough to make rolled tobacco Cuba’s number three export on the entire island.
Want to see how one of these cigars tastes? Live in Michigan? Just pop up to Toronto for the weekend. Definitely don’t smuggle any in the glove compartment for the drive home though. That would be wrong.
Yes, they are generally better
Number four in the world according to Cigar Aficionado and number one in the world according to Ask Men. The praise for Cuban cigars is effusive and consistent.
Is it because of their mystique? Because they’re doing something right? It’s impossible to say for sure. The only thing we can know is that yes, people generally do like Cubans better.
Kennedy bought 1,200 of them right before the embargo.
In defense of the theory that Cuban cigars really are better, one U.S. president even delayed foreign policy just so he could get his hands on a few more of them.
According to one story, President John F. Kennedy asked his head of press Pierre Salinger to get him 1,000 Petit Upmann brand cigars before purchasing them became illegal. When Salinger returned with 1,200 in hand the next morning Kennedy thanked him, pulled a sheet of paper from his desk and signed the embargo into law.
How many other cigars can say that the world waited for them?
Each one comes with a stamp of authenticity
Telling a real Cuban from a fake is difficult, at least up front. That’s why the government, which controls all cigar production on the island, created the cigar guarantee stamp. This label of authenticity goes on every single Cuban cigar, assuring buyers that they’re not smoking an imitation.
As an added piece of trivia, every guarantee stamp comes with not only the Cuban flag on it but also a picture of a tobacco plantation.
It takes over 100 steps to make just one
Cuban cigars are still hand rolled the old fashioned way: by hand on a factory floor. In some places the readers still even practice their trade, reading the newspaper or popular fiction to workers from a chair in the middle of the room. This isn’t an easy process, and it takes more than 100 steps to make a single cigar.
Is it worth it? Hopefully you’ll get a chance to answer that yourself soon enough.
--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website A Wandering Lawyer.