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Cuban Changes Not an Immediate Threat

Tampa's two most prominent cigar families do not believe their brands will be seriously impacted because U.S. policy changes, for now, are limited - though at least one patriarch may eventually add Cuban tobacco to his blends.

“I’m not just going to buy Cuban tobacco because it is Cuban. It has to be good.  I’d also want to know that Cubans are free in a way I consider free before I did business there.”

- Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr., 79, recently told the Tampa Tribune, adding that he hoped for a day when the Cuban people would live in democracy and tobacco from the island would return to Tampa. 

Fuente leads the company bearing his family name.  The cigar maker was founded 102 years ago in Tampa, where it still has a distribution warehouse in the historic Ybor City neighborhood.

President Barack Obama's decision to normalize relations with the communist dictatorship in Cuba only permits U.S. citizens to bring back up to $100 in tobacco products for personal use, not for resale.

That could change if the Republican-controlled Congress votes to lift the more than 50-year-old trade embargo with Cuba, which isn't considered likely to occur anytime soon.

"You can’t buy much for $100, Perhaps five, 10 or 20. How often is someone going to Cuba?”

- Eric Newman, who now heads the Tampa cigar business started by his father J.C. Newman, said to the Tribune.

Still, even with the pent-up demand for Cuban cigars, Newman believes his company's use of tobacco originally from Cameroon in west central Africa has enough of a following to win the day.

At one time, Cuba's monopoly with its renowned tobacco dissuaded production in other countries.  But Newman told the Tribune that the embargo created a void that has since been filled by Cameroon and others.

“There would be a rush to get (Cuban cigars).  That I am sure of ... When they outlawed it, everyone suddenly wanted it. We all want what we cannot have. But they would come back to us because we have good cigars.”

- Newman said to the Tribune in a recent story outlining the history of the cigar-making Fuente and Newman families and how they would deal with the normalization of relations with Cuba.

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