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Why are Cuban Cigars Illegal?

Last updated 06/14/2022 by

Ossiana Tepfenhart

Edited by

Fact checked by

Cuban cigars are illegal because of a trade embargo enacted by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. While some may argue that the reason for the embargo no longer makes much political sense, the embargo remains intact. As a result, it is still illegal to buy and sell Cuban tobacco products (and most products in general) in America.
Among cigar lovers, few types of cigars are as desired as Cuban cigars. It’s not because these cigars have any sort of illicit substances in them. Rather, there is a high demand for them due to the love of “forbidden fruit” that the name and origin country entails. But why are these cigars still illegal? And how did they ever become illegal in the first place?
There are a lot of rumors relating to the quality of Cuban cigars and how good they are. In this article, we’ll break down what these rumors are, why Cuban cigars are so coveted to this day, and whether they’re really worth the money.

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Why are Cuban cigars illegal in the United States?

During the 1960s, the United States took a hardline stance against communism, which Cuba’s leader at the time (Fidel Castro) had put in place. To defend the country against the looming threat of communism and what it could mean for America’s power in the international community, President Kennedy enacted an embargo in 1962.
The embargo itself was meant to help weaken the economies of communist countries. More specifically, it was to sever the trade between the United States and Cuba. The strict trade embargo was done as a way to pressure President Fidel Castro’s communist regime to fail.
The trade embargo remained in place throughout the Cold War, acting as a warning shot for any countries that wanted to recreate Fidel Castro’s rise to power in their own country. After Fidel Castro’s death, there were talks of making Cuban cigars legal again.

Why are Cuban cigars still illegal?

The relationship between the United States and Cuba remains shaky at best. In the past, Cuban officials almost sparked a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis, as Cuba was an ally of Russia during the Cold War.
Today, relationships are still strained. While things are getting better, the truth is that politicians are now starting to use their policies toward Cuba as a form of grandstanding. As a result, the full embargo with Cuba seems to be on an on-again, off-again basis for the time being.
A full repeal of the embargo would likely take serious reform to happen. Due to the current inefficacy of our country’s politics, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see a full repeal happen anytime soon.

Pro Tip

During the Obama administration, we saw a partial lift of the embargo that allowed people to visit Cuba. However, the trade embargo remains in place due to various reasons. As a result, these cigars are still illegal in the US — as are almost all Cuban goods (this includes Cuban rum).
If you want to try a Cuban cigar, book a trip to Cuba. You are now allowed to do so. President Biden lifted the bans put into place by President Trump. So while you can’t bring Cuban cigars into the U.S., you can try an authentic Cuban cigar straight from the source.

Is it illegal to have a Cuban cigar in the U.S.?

Technically, it is not illegal to own a Cuban cigar in the U.S. The main issue is buying, selling, or smuggling cigars in the United States from an embargoed country.
These actions make Cuban cigars illegal, not the act of possessing one from the 1960s. There are probably quite a few families from South Florida who still have a humidor with cigars in their possession from the era of Castro. That’s not illegal.

Can you buy Cuban cigars online?

A lot of companies claim that they have loopholes around the commercial import of Cuban cigars. However, these claims are not true. There are no legal loopholes that allow you to bring a cigar from Cuba into the United States, even if you bought the cigar itself in other countries.
Since 2020, there have been increased laws regarding the import and purchase of Cuban cigars. As an American, selling and buying Cuban cigars online or on any other platform is illegal.

Pro Tip

If you see a company claiming to sell Cuban cigars to Americans, chances are that those cigars are not actually from Cuba. Cuban cigars are never sold in cellophane packaging or clear humidor boxes.

Is there a penalty for smuggling Cuban cigars into the United States?

The penalties for smuggling cigars from this country are fairly steep. If you are caught smuggling them for personal consumption or commercial purposes, you’ll pay a fine of $55,000. Considering the steep price tag, it may be better to wait for trade sanctions reform to take place.
Once in a while, you may hear of a company or store that claims to have Cuban cigars for sale. You may even see cigars with labels reading “Havana, Cuba” or buy cigars in an “under the table” sale. Sometimes, sellers may claim that a specific line of South American cigars are actually just repackaged Cuban products.

How can you tell a real Cuban cigar from a fake one?

In many cases, the answer is pretty simple: If it’s sold stateside, it’s probably fake. These cigars are not actually from Cuba in the vast majority of cases. Due to the reputation that Cuban cigars have, there is a fairly large market for fake Cuban cigars. These can often be discerned by some of the following warning signs:
  • They are labeled from another country. If it doesn’t say it’s from “Cuba,” you’re just being sold a lie that boosts the price of tobacco.
  • Check the labeling. Habanos cigars, which are straight from Cuba, come with a barcode that verifies the country of origin as Cuba.
  • You will never see a Cuban cigar sold in cheap packaging. This would make most Cubans quite upset. Tobacco products are a source of pride for many Cubans. Plastic top boxes, asymmetrical boxes, and plastic packaging are all warning signs of faux Cubans.
  • You don’t recognize the brand. Cuba sells three main brands of cigars: Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, and Partagas. If you find a Cuban cigar that’s not from these brands, it’s likely a fake.
  • The heads on Cuban cigars are mounted. Rounded heads or sloppy head placement is a sign of a fake cigar. Additionally, they have a uniform wrapper — not a “barber pole” of different colors.
  • Look at the ashes. Non-Cuban cigars will have white ash, while Cuban cigars are salt-and-pepper in color.

Pro Tip

Do Cuban tobacco brands sound familiar to you as an American? There’s a chance you may have seen these sold stateside. The cigars you see in America are sold under parallel brands by the same name. So while those tobacco products might not be from Cuba, they do have Cuban concept origins.

What’s so special about a Cuban cigar?

Nothing much, aside from its rarity. Cuban cigars were often said to be the best in the world prior to the trade embargo. To a point, this makes sense, as tobacco products make up approximately 20% of Cuba’s export income.
Most people would say that a typical Cuban cigar has a high level of quality that offers a heady, spicy flavor and pairs well with a cappuccino. However, cigar enthusiasts can also find similarly high-quality smokes from Central and South America.

Do Cuban cigars get you high?

Though there are plenty of rumors, Cuban cigars aren’t capable of getting people high. There are no ingredients that can offer a high like cannabis since it’s just tobacco.
The country’s cigars, at most, can give you a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning. This can actually make you feel “high” in the sense that you feel sleepy and wobbly.

Key Takeaways

  • Cuban cigars are illegal because of a strict trade embargo enacted by President Kennedy.
  • Until the embargo ends between the United States and Cuba, Cuban tobacco products will remain banned.
  • In recent years, President Obama and the Biden administration loosened laws so that people can visit Cuba from the U.S.
  • Cuban cigars have a reputation for being some of the best in the world, though you can find cigars from Central America with similar quality.
  • If you’re caught smuggling Cuban cigars into the U.S., you’ll have to pay a $55,000 fine.

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