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Lighting the way for Cuban cigars in America?

Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro exhales cigar smoke during a March, 1985 interview at his presidential palace in Havana.  (AP Photo/ Charles Tasnadi)

For cigar aficionados around the country, the warming of U.S.-Cuba relations might best be celebrated beside the smoky glow of a Cohiba. And yet stateside, that still won't be easy to do for some time.

On Wednesday, the White House announced that it would reestablish ties with Cuba, which have been broken since 1961. In addition to opening a U.S. embassy in Havana, the government will ease travel restrictions for Americans to the island nation. Commercial imports of Cuban goods, however, are still frozen despite the diplomatic thaw.

In 2013, the global retail value of the cigar market was more than $23 billion, according to data from Euromonitor International. And Corporación Habanos, an iconic producer of Cuban cigar brands like Cohiba, was the 18th largest cigar company in the world last year, selling more than 215 million units.

For those cigars to make their way into American shops, Congress would need to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, which is codified in U.S. law and beyond the scope of the executive power that Obama exercised on Wednesday. The president did, however, say in a press conference that he hopes his actions will lead to "a serious debate about lifting the embargo," and that "increased commerce is good for Americans and Cubans."

While the sale of Cuban cigars is less than imminent, small quantities will soon be easier to bring into the United States for personal use. Speaking on background, a Treasury Department official said its agency is prepared to shift enforcement on Cuban cigar importation, according to the travel changes announced by Obama.

To this point, the importation of tobacco from Cuba was not previously authorized, even for the small group of citizens who were permitted to travel between the two countries. Once the president's changes take effect in the coming weeks, however, authorized American travelers will now be allowed to import up to $100 of Cuban alcohol or tobacco products.

Due to decades of embargo, cigar makers have long looked for other ways to satisfy Americans' taste for the smoky contraband. Many brands create cigars that are 'Cuban style' or 'made with Cuban seed,' in an effort to capitalize on the allure of a Cuban while skirting the illegality of importing cigars produced on the island.

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