Cuban Cigar Smuggling Into the U.S. Is Increasing
Cuban cigar smuggling has surged in major cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami due to the increased popularity of cigar smoking. Seizures of Cuban cigars have increased sixfold in the past three years to more than $1.1 million worth in fiscal 1996 (Anne-Marie O'Connor, "Demand for Cigars Fuels Smuggling of Cuban Contraband," Los Angeles Times, September 7, 1997). The importation of cigars made in Cuba has been banned since the early 1960s as one of the economic sanctions the U.S government imposed against the government of Fidel Castro.
Customs officials say San Diego has emerged as a major smuggling point for these cigars. Since August 1997, the U.S. Customs Service in Southern California has confiscated nearly 5000 Cuban cigars with a black market value of $283,500 (the average value of a Cuban cigar is more than $56). Officials suspect that smugglers fly from Cuba to Tijuana, and then bring the cigars through the San Ysidro border station into San Diego. There is a limit to how far law enforcement will go to curb the cigar smuggling trend. Mike Sheehan, an expert on the Customs Service, said, "These are cigars, after all. It's not heroin."