By RACHEL LA CORTE
MIAMI (AP) — Americans travelers can soon legally bring back one of Cuba’s most celebrated products, but some limitations remain. Here’s a look at some facts and figures surrounding the loosened restrictions on cigars:
— THE RULES
Licensed American travelers can bring back no more than $100 in cigars. That will get travelers three to 20 “habanos,” depending on brand and size, said Gary Heathcott, an expert who writes for tobacco magazines. Prices in Cuba range from $6 for a petite Partagas stogie to $30 for a long, chubby Cohiba.
The last time travelers were able to bring Cuban cigars back was before Aug. 1, 2004. On that day, the U.S. tightened restrictions on Cuba and implemented a full ban on personal allotment purchases by licensed American travelers. With the changes announced this week, that ban goes away for travelers, but it remains for commercial importation. Retailers won’t be able to get their hands on the tobacco or cigars.
Most Americans are still prohibited from traveling to Cuba. But there are a dozen legal categories of travel to Cuba. Limited groups — close relatives of Cubans, journalists, academics and people on accredited cultural education programs — can visit.
And Americans can’t rush to Canada or Europe for Cuban stogies. U.S. travelers can purchase Cuban cigars and tobacco only in Cuba. Cuban tobacco products sold in other countries are prohibited for purchase or import.
— THE ALLURE
Many consider Cuban tobacco the finest in the world because of its climate, fertile soil, proximity to the equator and traditional hand-rolling technique. For U.S. aficionados, the “forbidden fruit” aspect adds to the appeal. “Americans like stuff we can’t have,” Heathcott said
Many in the industry say other countries are turning out competitive products. Eric Newman, co-owner of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., said the cigars his company makes in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua are “more consistent in flavor and construction than those made in Cuba today.”
The U.S. cigar market sees about 13 billion individual cigars sold each year, according to The International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retail Association. Fewer than 300 million qualify as premium cigars. That market brings in $600 million to $800 million a year. According to the Cigar Association of America, more than 317 million cigars were imported into the country last year from the Dominican Republican, Nicaragua and Honduras. The Dominican Republican sent the most — 134 million.
— THE FUTURE
The embargo is still in place, which means wide-scale importation and sale of Cuban cigars and tobacco is off the table. The market is so diverse that many retailers have said it will just be one more product on an already bustling scene. “I think Cuban cigars becoming available will create so much interest in the overall industry that everyone should benefit,” Newman said.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi contributed from Havana.
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