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Endless Debate (or Hope): When Will U.S. Legalize Cuban Cigars?

Will the embargo with Cuba ever end? And what will it mean for the island-nation’s famous cigars if and when it normalizes trade with the United States?

Or do the distinctly American politics of dealing with a communist government that suppresses the rights and freedoms of its people prevent such an agreement anytime soon.

When will we be able to legally smoke a Cuban cigar?

“I don’t think it will be long now. Of course, my family’s been saying that for 55 years.”

- Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr., who heads a family-controlled cigar business that operates its U.S. distributor from Ybor City, recently told the Tampa Tribune.

CUBAN Tobacco Field Worker

CUBAN Tobacco Field Worker

The Tampa native told the Tribune that the Fuente family is too entrenched economically and emotionally in the Dominican Republic to ever shift operations back to Cuba.

So who stands to benefit? Imperial Tobacco, a London-based international partner of Cuba’s state-owned cigar company, Habanos, likely would see the most profits immediately if Cuban tobacco becomes legal in the U.S.

Habanos and Imperial plan to boost tobacco production by 50 percent over five years to meet the U.S. demand once imports are legal, Richard Feinberg, a nonresident senior fellow with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, told the Tribune.

Cuban Cigar Regions

Cuban Cigar Regions

Such an increase – by Imperial and others – could potentially push up sales of the iconic cigars from several hundred million dollars a year in revenue for Cuba to several billion dollars a year.

This “sentiment is correct,” said Imperial Tobacco spokesman Alex Parsons, though he did not state an exact figure. Imperial sells non-­Cuban cigars in the U.S., such as Romeo y Julieta.

“Of course there would be a significant upswing in production. Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of a new market? But it’s all speculation because the embargo has not been lifted nor are their plans to, as far as we know.”

- Imperial Tobacco’s Parsons told the Tribune.


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