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Cigar lovers hunger for legal Cubans

There's an allure about having something that's forbidden, especially wrapping your lips around a genuine Cuban cigar.

But area merchants say cigars produced in the Dominican Republic and Honduras are better than Cuban cigars.

Sissy Grant, who with her husband, Kevin, owns Nash Cigars in Rocky Mount, said customers are usually disappointed when they try Cuban cigars and ask if there's something more to them.

"I say, 'That's it,'" Grant said.

Consumers in the United States have not been able to legally get their hands on Cuban cigars since President John F. Kennedy signed an embargo banning importing cigars and other tobacco products originating in Cuba. The embargo is also supposed to prevent U.S. tourists from buying these Cuban products in other countries and bringing them home. The ban also covers Internet and catalog purchases.

But with Fidel Castro recuperating from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding and nearing his 80th birthday, some people are already speculating about the potential for an end of the embargo at some point in the future. Even if the embargo ends, it's questionable if the demand for Cuban cigars will be there.

At Nash Cigars, the Grants have 40 Cuban cigars in stock right now. They bought the cigars from one of their suppliers, whose company had about 46,000 pounds of Cuban tobacco and rolled cigars with it. The cigars date from 1956 through 1958 and 1960. The cigars sell for $9.95 each, which Grant described as medium priced.

"We have certificates on them, so they are real," she said.

But Grant said customers can get cigars from the Dominican Republic and Honduras that have a taste close to Cuban cigars but are better.

"We have a couple of companies who do a similar mix on it so they taste similar to it, but they're not Cuban," she said.

Grant also said people traveling and buying Cuban cigars in other countries find the quality isn't that good, either.

"Some don't burn right, some don't draw, some are not good at all," she said.

Grant said the popularity of cigars in general continues to grow as people find out about the different tastes and price ranges available. But like Grant, Scott Windham isn't sure whether there will be a demand for Cuban cigars if the embargo ever ends.

"It would depend on the price per cigar," said Windham, who owns Smokers Choice in on U.S. 301 in Wilson. "I think there's probably some fine cigars out there that aren't Cuban and the quality is just as good as the Cuban."

Smokers Choice also offers consumers cigars from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras. Windham said they order what cigars they get calls for from their customers.

"We sell a lot made in the U.S.," he said.

Source: Wilson Daily Times