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Local tobacconist doesnt see Cuban cigars coming anytime soon

It's estimated that six to seven million Cuban cigars are smuggled into the United States each year.

They've been illegal in the U.S. since 1962 when President Kennedy issued a trade embargo on the stogies, though not before reportedly stockpiling 1,200 of the soon-to-be contraband himself.

That said, the recent news of Fidel Castro's fading health has stirred some excitement in the hearts of cigar aficionados everywhere. However, one local tobacconist thinks it's a bit premature to begin thinking about legal sales of the cigars in the U.S., and points out that Castro's eventual death won't immediately equal "Cuba Libre."

"Nothing's changing in Cuba," said Mike King, owner of Hickey Brothers Cigar Store in The District of Rock Island. "It will still be a communist country (when Castro dies) and we'll still have an embargo. I think people are jumping the gun."

Cuban cigars have long been touted as the world's finest for their distinct, nuanced and high quality flavors, but anymore Mr. King thinks, as do many other cigar experts, the reputation is just hype.

"It's because it's something you can't have," he said. "Wasn't it more exciting to get beer when you were 18, then at 24? Does the beer taste any different? No, it's the excitement of getting of what you can't have."

Not only are Cuban cigars often over-hyped, but deteriorating conditions in Cuba aren't helping their reputation either, Mr. King said.

Cigars are much like coffee in that the flavor depends on several factors, including the seed, soil, climate, preparation, blends, etc., he said. If the soil is poor or too dry one year and too wet another, the result may be an inferior cigar.

Instead, excellent cigars are beginning to come out of the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. In both cases, the tobacco used in the cigars probably originated from Cuban seed anyway, Mr. King said.

"I can't imagine there is a world of a difference," between the cigars, he said. "Other than the mystique."

Also like coffee, cigars have various tasting attributes ranging from smooth and mild to bolder, more robust flavors. Mr. King said for someone truly looking to find and enjoy a cigar, it's best to let a tobacconist lead you through the nuances of the cigar world to start.

"It just depends on the individual's taste. Until someone directs and leads you to the right one, you may not even know you like cigars."

Mr. King said he estimates a temporary surge in demand for the cigars once the embargo someday is lifted. However, he doesn't think the fervor for the once-forbidden fruit would last more than a year or so.

He also pointed out that legalization of the cigars won't happen over night and may take three or four years after Castro's death.

"People need to realize Cuba is still a communist-run state. They need to have free election, they need basic human rights … and until those things happen, there will be no trading with Cuba."

Source: Quad-Cities Online