We were in Havana earlier in February for the Havana Cigar Festival. Immediately when we landed, we lit a Cohiba Siglo I in the taxi. It was nice to be legally smoking a Cuban cigar after 10 years of it essentially being illegal for Americans to smoke them. Nonetheless, in most cases it appears Americans still should not be smoking Habanos.
The international press has been filled with stories about how it’s now legal to smoke Cuban cigars, but it seems nobody bothered to read the recent document from the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), part of the U.S. Treasury Department that oversees economic sanctions based on American foreign policy and national security. OFAC has been enforcing the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba for decades, including fining Americans for smoking cigars as well as illegally visiting the island.
A quick read of OFAC’s January 15 “Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba” shows that Americans still cannot legally buy or smoke Cuban cigars in most instances. It’s under No. 24 of the FAQ.
24. Can I purchase Cuban-origin cigars and/or Cuban-origin rum or other alcohol over Internet or while in a third country (i.e., not Cuba)?
No. These transactions remain prohibited, and OFAC has not issued a general license that would authorize them.
This means that Americans are still not legally allowed to buy and most likely smoke Cuban cigars outside of those purchased in Cuba. They can bring them back to the United States, up to $100 worth of Habanos – about 13 to 14 Partagas Serie D No. 4, the most popular premium cigar exported from Cuba. But they can’t buy them anywhere else, regardless if it is Hong Kong or London.
It’s not clear if a non-American can legally offer Americans a Cuban cigar to smoke. Or even if it would be theoretically legal for an American to smoke a Cuban cigar outside of Cuba, if he or she even found one on the street! It’s interesting to note that the OFAC website on Cuba Sanctions no longer includes a PDF that states that it’s illegal for Americans to smoke Cuban cigars anywhere. That was always a tough one to enforce.
In any case, it was great to be in Havana celebrating President Obama’s new changes in policy that took effect on Friday, January 16. And many more Americans will be able to join the celebration with the loosening of travel restrictions to the once forbidden island.