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JC Newman hopes to import Cuban tobacco. In April of 2016, the U.S. Department of State added coffee as one of the exemptions to the Cuban trade embargo. The only condition is that the coffee comes from independent Cuban entrepreneurs. Nespresso brought Cuban coffee to the USA later that year. Now Drew Newman from J.C. Newman Cigar Company is petitioning to import Cuban tobacco from independent Cuban entrepreneurs. People such as Hector Luis and Hirochi Robaina for example. 

“The U.S. government allows coffee and other goods from Cuba to be legally imported so long as they are from ‘independent Cuban entrepreneurs,’ ” Newman says to Cigar Aficionado. “I am petitioning the U.S. government to add tobacco leaves grown by independent farmers—not the Cuban government—to this list.”

Cuban history

In its 125 years of existence, the oldest still family-owned cigar manufacturer in the USA has a fair share of history with Cuba. Cuesta Rey is a brand they bought from Cuba. And many of their cigars before the 1961 embargo were made with Cuban tobacco. American-made Cuban puros have the name ‘Clear Havana’ and were the most popular cigars on the market. 

“Before President Kennedy imposed the Cuban embargo, my family imported millions of pounds of Cuban tobacco into the United States. We rolled Clear Havanas, cigars that were made entirely from Cuban tobacco, in our El Reloj cigar factory in Tampa,” Newman explains.

If J.C. Newman gets permission, it means that a brand new Clear Havana is a possibility. It could also be the revival of Clear Havana cigars and a boost to the cigar industry as a whole. Newman says. “Allowing us to import Cuban tobacco leaves would allow us to support independent Cuban farmers and to prove, once again, that we can roll better cigars with Cuban tobacco than Cuba can.”

Ministry of Cigars - JC Newman hopes to import Cuban tobacco
Photo credit: Haute Juice Get Hip

Cuban government

Even though there are independent tobacco farmers, it does not automatically mean that they can sell to buyers outside of Cuba. Tobacco is a prized and controlled product. The Cuban government is making a lot of money from it via Habanos. Cuban officials might not allow overseas sales, or want to act as an agent. And then, J.C. Newman would have to buy from the Cuban government, making a possible exemption void. 

And then there is Habanos. Only Habanos can classify a cigar as Cuban. Almost everywhere in the world, they have the copyright to Cuba and Havana in the tobacco category. But to that, Newman says“ The Cuban government should not be afraid of having independent farmers export their tobacco to the United States. If the Cuban government believes that their cigar rollers are some of the best in the world, they should not be afraid of having American cigar makers roll cigars with Cuban tobacco again just like we did before the embargo.”

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