David Savona of Cigar Aficionado talks about the lifting of restrictions on importing cigars from Cuba, and why Cuban cigars are so special to smokers.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, it’s time for our segment called Words You’ll Hear. That’s where we take a word or a phrase that we think will be in the news and let you know what it’s all about. And this week’s word is Cohiba. That is the cigar brand owned by the Cuban government. And if you are a cigar aficionado, then you probably know this already – you might be seeing a lot more of them in the U.S. Before Friday, Americans who traveled to Cuba were only allowed to bring back rum and cigars worth a combined value of $100. For those in the know, that’s about three good cigars. But a new round of regulations meant to ease trade with Cuba eliminates that limit.
We invited David Savona to talk about it with us. He is the executive editor of – what else? – Cigar Aficionado magazine. And he’s with us now. Mr. Savona, thanks so much for joining us.
DAVID SAVONA: Oh, thank you very much.
MARTIN: I do want to mention that the new trade regulations are not just about cigars. They also lift limits on cargo ship travel between the U.S. and Cuba, and they make it easier for Cuban and American researchers to conduct joint medical research. So with that being said – Mr. Savona, what is so special about a Cuban cigar?
SAVONA: Well, Cuban cigars have been the forbidden fruit for Americans for more than five decades. But more importantly than being forbidden fruit and being illegal for so many years, the cigars are exceptional. Cuba is the birthplace of the premium cigar industry, so the cigars made in Cuba are world-class. They’re prized by connoisseurs around the world. And they’re very, very good.
MARTIN: OK, not trying to get in your business here, but how have you been able to have Cuban cigars to this point?
SAVONA: Well, you know, our editors travel the world. We’ve been in business for 24 years, going on 25. And we’ve been all around the world in that entire time and in Cuba for many of those years. And as journalists, we’ve been allowed to go to Cuba, unlike most Americans. Typical travel is still banned under the embargo, but journalists have been allowed to go under that loophole.
MARTIN: If you aren’t able to travel to Cuba for, you know, whatever reason, can you go to a cigar shop and just buy one now in the U.S.?
SAVONA: They still cannot be sold in the U.S., so you won’t see them at your local cigar shop. But you can go to London, you can go to Montreal, you can go to Mexico, any of these other countries where Cuban cigars are sold, and you can now bring back, you know, for personal consumption Cuban cigars from those countries. That’s a big deal. That’s a big change.
MARTIN: So how much do they cost? As I mentioned, that maybe $100 to this point would get you three – is that how much they cost in Cuba?
SAVONA: Yeah. At the very, very high end, though. Talking about Cohibas – a Cohiba Behike, the fattest size, known as a 56, they go for about $33 dollars apiece in Cuba. So yeah, that’s three cigars under the old $100 limit, which is not very much at all. Even a more modestly-priced good Cuban cigar would cost, you know, maybe $10 or so. So that doesn’t get you even a full box because most boxes of Cuban cigars have 25 cigars. So one of the big changes with this law, a change we certainly applaud, is that now when you take your trips, you can come back with an entire box or a couple of boxes of Cuban cigars, which is a good thing in our eyes.
MARTIN: Part of what makes these so attractive is that they’ve been made the same way for what, generations now? Is there going to be a windfall for Cuba? Or is the price, do you think, going to rise in part because demand is going to rise?
SAVONA: Prices in Cuba are still very reasonable compared to other markets around the world. A Cuban cigar that retails for, you know, $20 in Cuba might retail for $80 in London. So prices could go up. The other thing you mentioned about the allure – you know, the Cuban cigar – there is an allure because of the forbidden fruit aspect, the fact that it has been illegal.
And while it is an excellent cigar, you know, we do our tasting – in every issue of Cigar Aficionado, we taste cigars from around the world, Cuban versus non-Cuban. And while the Cubans certainly do exceptionally well in those taste tests, they don’t always win. So the cigars from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras – in many cases, they’re just as good.
So I don’t think the cigar smokers of America will all of a sudden just stop smoking the cigars they’ve grown to love over these decades of smoking only or being available to only smoke non-Cubans. I think in the future, when it’s all completely open, the cigar smoker America will have a full choice – Cuban, Dominican, Nicaraguan and otherwise – and Cuban cigars will become a part of the regular rotation, a more complete humidor for the cigar smoker of the future.
MARTIN: That’s David Savona. He’s the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine telling us about Cohibas. He was kind enough to join us from his home office in Connecticut. Mr. Savona, thanks so much for speaking with us.
SAVONA: Oh, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
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