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Renewed U.S.-Cuba Ties Could Mean Big Things For Cigar Market


Think Cuba, think cigars. David Savona is the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine. David, welcome to the program.

DAVID SAVONA: Thanks, glad to be here.

RATH: So the big question - how much of game-changer is this for the cigar market in the U.S.?

SAVONA: Well, short-term I don't think it's a very big game-changer. But in the long term it could be quite a big deal. This week's news we've described as the biggest development in 50 years in U.S.-Cuba relations. And when you think about Cuba, you can't help but think about cigars. Cuba's the birthplace of cigars. And so it's held up in many ways in many people's view as the holy grail of cigar smoking and cigars.

RATH: So how far do you think we are from seeing Cuban cigars in American shops?

SAVONA: Well, we're certainly closer than we were a week ago. You know, this week's news does not mean that tomorrow or next week you'll be able to go out and buy a Cuban cigar in the U.S. It's not an ending of the embargo. But it's a crack in the embargo, maybe a first crack - probably the biggest news in all this that people have certainly been paying attention to from the cigar perspective is the news that you could now bring back $100 worth of Cuban cigars or alcohol if you go on a trip to Cuba.

So it doesn't change that many things. But we're kind of returning to what it was like during, say, the Clinton administration and before. People who went on an authorized trip to Cuba and back to United States were allowed to come back with $100 worth of Cuban products. Now, under these new rules which will go into effect soon, you could return with up to $400 worth of goods and $100 of that can be cigars or alcohol.

RATH: Would that be enough through just tourists coming back with them to have any effect on the market?

SAVONA: Not really - $100 worth of cigars doesn't buy you very much, even in Cuba where prices are fairly low. Just to give you perspective - a box of Montecristo No. 2's, which was the Cigar of the Year by Cigar Aficionado in 2013, that retails for around $250 in Cuba. So $100 doesn't really buy you - it wouldn't buy you a full box of those cigars. You could get a box of very small cigars or some substandard cigars. But really $100 in a good Cuban cigar shop will buy you a handful of some top-quality cigars.

RATH: So David, how much of the appeal do you think lies in the fact that, you know, this is the forbidden fruit? You can't get them legally here.

SAVONA: That's undeniable. I mean, the forbidden fruit aspect certainly tantalizes people. If you tell someone you can't have something, it builds it up in your mind. And since most of Americans - well, all Americans can't legally acquire a Cuban cigar - you know, for most of them the image is only something they built up in their head, and, you know, it's a legendary product. There's a lot of pedigree there. And a lot of the hype, if you will, around Cuban cigars is justified. They are very, very good cigars. It just doesn't mean they're always the best. So part of it is the forbidden fruit aspect - no, you can't have this. And you've never tried it, but boy if you do, it'll be great. And a lot of it also - you know, heck, it does have some pedigree to back up the legend.

RATH: David Savona is the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine. David, thank you.

SAVONA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.