State cigar makers eye opportunities in Cuba

Tampa Bay Business Journal  |  May 12, 2014

Florida cigar makers say they are waiting anxiously for the day when trade relations with Cuba are normalized.

Cuba produces enough tobacco for 4 million cigars a year and its tobacco plants are considered by many to be the best in the world, the Tampa Tribune said. However, due to the trade embargo, importing Cuban tobacco has been off limits for more than 50 years.

Marcus Daniel, the owner of Marcus Daniel Tobacconist in Old Naples, visits Cuba as often as five times a year and hopes to quickly develop a relationship with a Cuban farm once the ban is lifted. “I call it my ‘Cuba Plan,’ and whether they want to admit it or not, every cigar manufacturer in the U.S. has one to some degree,” Daniel said. “They need to. When Cuban tobacco is allowed to flood the U.S. market, it will be a game changer, and they need to be ready.”

Observers say the company that will benefit most from the lifting of the embargo is Imperial Tobacco in London, which is the international partner of Cuba’s state-owned cigar company, Habanos, the Tribune said. All Cuban cigars sold outside the U.S. have the Imperial brand name.

Still, Florida manufacturers, many of whom have deep roots in Cuba that pre-date the embargo, are eager to crack the market. “I don’t think it will be long now,” said Tampa native Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr., whose cigar company Arturo Fuente runs its U.S. distribution operation from Ybor City. “Of course, my family’s been saying that for 55 years.”

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