Why Cuban Cigars Are Illegal in the U.S.

Cuban cigars
Cuban Churchhill cigars. Getty Images/Franco Banfi

True Cuban cigars are illegal for U.S. citizens. The reason why Cuban cigars are not legal in the United States is ingrained in the memory of older cigar connoisseurs, but to younger cigar smokers, the reason can be found in the annals of history.

Trade Embargo Against Cuba

Way back in February of 1962, President John F. Kennedy established a trade embargo against Cuba to sanction Fidel Castro's communist regime, which seized control of the island in 1959 and then began to confiscate private property and other assets (including cigar companies).

Castro continued to be a thorn in the side of the United States. In October of 1962, during the height of the Cold War, he permitted the Soviets to construct missile bases on the island capable of striking the Untied States. The U.S. responded with a blockade of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from delivering the materials to complete the project (not to be confused with the Cuban Trade Embargo, which started in February 1962). Because of Castro, the world never came closer to nuclear war than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Numerous attempts were made by the U.S. to assassinate Castro (one including the use of poison cigars), but there is some speculation that Castro's cohorts may have gotten to JFK first. Regardless, this Communist Dictator is no friend of the United States, and open trade with Cuba would be tantamount to supporting communism, at least in the eyes of U.S. lawmakers.

Will the Embargo Ever Be Lifted?

As long as Fidel Castro still lives and Cuba's government is still communist, the Cuban Trade Embargo is expected to remain in effect, despite efforts by some who are trying to build support for lifting the ban.

In fact, the embargo was made even more restrictive in 2004. United States citizens cannot legally acquire or consume Cuban cigars, even while traveling abroad. This may be a law that is impractical to enforce, but it is still the law. There are substantial fines and penalties for violators, who are at a higher risk of being nabbed if they attempt to bring Cuban products (especially in large quantities) into the United States.

Cuba as a Communist Country

The world may have changed since 1962, but Cuba has not. Even though the United States may trade with other communist countries such as China, Cuba has the dubious distinction of being the only communist country within 90 miles of the United States, and the only communist country with a Castro as its dictator. Also, a large group of politically active Cuban exiles who now live in South Florida still oppose Cast ​and continue to support the embargo. Although some may argue that the embargo is not working, since Cuba's citizens are the ones who are suffering (not Castro), and because Cuba is still communist, the question now is, should U.S. lawmakers lift the embargo and let U.S. citizens decide if they want to support Cuba's economy by buying its products? Or should the embargo continue to be enforced until Cuba installs a democratic government and returns the private property that was seized? Only time will tell.