Proposed Bill Could Bring Connecticut Tobacco to Cuba

For half-a-century, a trade embargo has banned the sale of US goods to Cuba.

But a Connecticut senator hopes to change that, by co-sponsoring the Freedom to Export to Cuba act which would repeal the trade embargo that’s been on the books since 1960.

On Friday, Democrat Chris Murphy held a round table discussion with Connecticut tobacco growers to hear their take on the issue. Many expressed support for the idea, hoping it would provide a new opportunity for business.

“There’s more and more places where they don’t want you to smoke,” said William Dufford, a South Glastonbury tobacco grower who’s been in the industry for 40-years.

Opening up diplomatic relations is the first step to getting products grown in US soil back over to Cuba.

“This is an island that is just a handful of miles off of our shore with millions of potential customers,” said Murphy.

Tobacco is still big business in Connecticut, which is the 8th largest producer, employing 1,000 people and adding $40 million to the economy, but fields are dwindling.

“In the 50’s there was probably 30,000 acres of tobacco grown in the valley, now there’s about three or four (thousand),” explained Dufford.

The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would also remove a president’s authority to impose future embargoes, and repeal the prohibition on Cuban imports. That had some worried about an influx of Cuban cigars to the US that would hurt American tobacco growers, but officials explained that US tobacco is already getting to Cuba through South America, and Connecticut farmers are missing out. Proponents say this bill presents an opportunity to make money off the legal trade of American tobacco to Cuba.

“I hope there’s some dollar signs, and keep us all in business,” said Dufford.

Senator Murphy said the proposal is not just good for business but good politically.

“Once they get access to US goods, all of sudden political reform is not so slow to follow,” said Murphy.

By Kristen Johnson, NBC Connecticut

October 2, 2015

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