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Political changes boost hopes for Cuban cigars

Cigar smokers hope the U.S. political stance toward Cuba will turn over a new leaf.

Of tobacco, that is.

The news of Fidel Castro's declining health is stoking the embers of speculation that the 47-year-old embargo on importing Cuban cigars to the United States could end soon.

Local cigar aficionados say they'd welcome being able to sell "puros cubanos."

"It would be nice to offer them. They are in a class by themselves," said Steve Liebert, who owns Bosse's News & Tobacco, 220 Cherry St., Green Bay. "People are always asking about Cuban cigars. But I don't know if they'd really be happy once they find out."

Some question whether Cuban cigars will be able to live up to their reputation as the world's finest.

"I think the mystique may be destroyed," said Jack Mahoney, who owns Briar & Bean, 353 Main Ave., De Pere. "They're illegal, therefore we want them."

Mahoney said he'd like to see the embargo lifted.

After Castro came to power, many Cubans fled and took their tobacco seeds with them. Some say hand-rolled cigars from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua are now better than the real Cuban cigars.

Castro, who turned 80 on Sunday, announced last month he was stepping aside temporarily and granting his powers to his brother, Raul, as head of the government and the Communist Party while he recovers from intestinal surgery.

While Cuban cigars cannot be imported to the United States, Americans returning from other countries often bring them back with them.

Liebert said there are lots of fake or just bad Cuban cigars, too. His store, featuring a 10-by-15-foot ,walk-in humidor, stocks about 1,000 cigars from 25 companies. Cigars range from $1 each up to $20 each.

"Big sellers are in the $5 to $7 range," he said.

Lyman Elliott Jr., who owns Elliott's Specialty Shop in Sturgeon Bay, said there may be legal fights over the rights to use prominent Cuban names of cigars now produced elsewhere.

Cigars boomed during a resurgence in the 1990s. While no-smoking ordinances have since curtailed sales somewhat, Elliott said there always will be a demand for premier cigars.

"There always will be cigar smokers. They're just limited where they can do it," said Don Bergner, whose family runs the wholesale Classic Cigar Imports in Green Bay. The business stocks cigar humidors at local restaurants and taverns.

"It seems to be a status thing," Bergner said. The bigger the cigar, the bigger the success.

Source: Oshkosh Northwestern