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Tip: Five Things You Need To Know About the New Cuban Cigar Rules

19 Oct 2016


On Friday, news broke that federal rules for importing Cuban cigars (and rum) were changing. While the Obama administration has been largely hostile to handmade cigars, moves towards normalizing relations with Cuba have been a silver lining to the otherwise draconian stance by the Obama presidency, most notably the FDA, towards cigars. The changes officially went into effect on Monday, October 17. Here’s what you need to know:

Cuban cigars bought overseas can now be brought into the U.S.

In December 2014, for the first time since before Cuban Embargo, it became legal to import Cuban cigars into the United States, but only for officially licensed travelers to Cuba and only if the value of the cigars (and rum) totaled $100 or less. Further, until March 16, 2016, it was also technically illegal to buy Cuban cigars overseas even if they weren’t smoked outside the U.S. Now, it is legal to bring back cigars purchased in Cuba or elsewhere, as long as the cigars are for personal consumption.

Online sales from overseas on hold for now.

Many of the news stories about the rule change were vague and implied that all overseas purchases of Cuban cigars for personal consumption were allowed. Since non-approved alcohol can be purchased from overseas for consumption, it left the window open for Cuban cigar purchases overseas online, which would then be delivered into the U.S. However, the Treasury Department has made clear that the rule changes for importing Cuban cigars only apply to accompanied baggage: “OFAC is also removing the prohibition on foreign travelers importing Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products into the United States as accompanied baggage.” So while non-FDA approved, non-Cuban cigars can be purchased from overseas and shipped into the U.S., Cuban cigars still cannot be imported unless you are personally traveling with them (in other words, they must be in your baggage).

Taxes and duty still must be paid on Cuban cigars.

While you can bring in Cuban cigars, you are still responsible for declaring them on your customs form. The Treasury Department also notes that you may have to pay when you bring your cigars back with you: “In all cases, the Cuban-origin goods must be imported for personal use, and normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply.” Generally, you can bring back up to 100 cigars with a value of $800 without paying duty. Note you also may be required to pay federal excise taxes on the tobacco products you are importing.

There are lots of fake Cuban cigars out there.

Cuban cigars tend to be expensive, which creates an incentive for people to sell counterfeits. Since we first wrote about how to spot a fake, Habanos (the Cuban government-controlled distribution company) has beefed up its assistance to cigar smokers when it comes to verifying a Cuban cigar’s authenticity. In addition to a helpful page detailing the anti-counterfeiting measures they use, they also have a page where you can input the serial number of a box to check authenticity. But the best advice remains to purchase your cigars only from reputable and official Cuban cigar retailers, and always be weary of a deal that seems to good to be true. Fake Cubans have even been spotted at duty-free shops in airports. And the guy at the beach selling “discount Cubans” is almost certainly selling fakes.

Don’t get caught up in the Cuban hype.

We’ve said many times that while Cuban cigars can be very special, they are not the be-all-end-all of cigars. Many of the finest cigars produced today are made outside of Cuba, and if you are not used to Cuban cigars, you may not find them particularly enjoyable as they tend to be different from the finest Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan cigars. The benefit of the new rules is that more Americans will get to legally try authentic Cuban cigars for themselves, and they will finally be able to judge them free from the hype and mystique that is tied up in trying a banned product.

Patrick S

photo credits: Flickr

Tip: Help a Service Member Enjoy a Good Smoke

17 Aug 2016

The other day an email landed in my inbox from a U.S. Army captain stationed overseas. He wondered if it would be possible to get some cigars for his soldiers.

Troops PhotoCapt. Justin Foster’s unit, whose mission is providing sophisticated communications support, shipped out about three months ago from its home in the Baltimore area.

“I have many soldiers in my 51-man formation that enjoy a great cigar,” he wrote. “I do like to give care packages as much as possible and send nice things out to the soldiers.” has been pushing for cigar donations to the troops for years. Sometimes it’s reminding readers to check out Cigars for Warriors. Sometimes it’s urging you to assist individual units like Capt. Foster’s. And sometimes we suggest you to contribute to a program at your local shop.

Let’s face it, with considerably fewer troops overseas now than there were in the recent past, there’s not as much attention focused on soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines as there was. It’s easy to forget.

But that’s exactly the time they need a boost the most. Their jobs aren’t any easier, their risks any smaller, or their chances to get a good cigar any better.

I asked Capt. Foster if he could send me a photo of some of his troops enjoying a cigar, and he did. They may be sitting at a picnic table, but I don’t think it’s much of a picnic where they are. I’m sure a cigar break is more than welcome.

So, dig into your humidor. I’m sure you can find a few good sticks to send along for inclusion in Capt. Foster’s care packages. The address:

CPT Justin Foster
APO AE 09330

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys/Capt. Foster

Tip: How to Travel with Cigars on a Plane

13 Jul 2016


Whether you’re taking a week-long vacation to a beach paradise or just flying off for a few days in a distant city for work, you’ll probably want to take some cigars.

Depending on where you are going, you may not have easy access to a cigar shop. Or you may not have access to reasonably priced cigars (taxes can be very high in certain states and countries). Or you may only have access to Cubans, and you may not be sure of their authenticity.

Even if you think you’ll pick up some cigars on your trip, bringing some cigars along with the tools necessary to enjoy them is probably a good idea. So here are some tips to make your air travel with cigars smoother:

Protect Your Cigars

Plane travel can be a traumatic experience for cigars, between the pressurized air and the fact that your bag is probably going to be forcibly jammed in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. (Don’t check your cigars, as the cargo hold of the plane can have some pretty extreme temperature changes that can do serious damage.) The natural solution is a hard plastic cigar case like those made by Xikar or Cigar Caddy. Each comes in anywhere from a five to fifteen-count, or sometimes more.

If you don’t have a case, or if you can’t fit all the cigars you want to bring in the case you have, a sealed Ziplock bag will do fine. But you’ll want to put the bag in a hard tube or box to make sure they don’t get crushed. If you are traveling for more than few days, throw a small Boveda pack in with your cigars to help stabilize and maintain proper humidity.

Bring a Lighter, Avoid Confiscation

Torch lighters are great, but the TSA will take them from your carry-on or checked luggage. Trust me on this. I’ve accidentally left them in my bag and had them confiscated. But you can bring a soft flame lighter in your carry-on. You can also bring a single box of matches, so I like to stuff one box of wooden matches to the brim as a backup.

My go-to soft flame lighter is the Djeep, which is dependable and has decent capacity. It’s also cheap, so if some ornery TSA agent on a power-trip takes it you won’t be too upset. If you really want a torch lighter, you might consider a Soto Pocket Torch, which can convert a regular cheap lighter into a torch. But bring the lighter in your carry-on and leave the Soto in your checked bag to make sure it isn’t confiscated if the TSA agent figures out what it is. Also, for all lighters and matches, know that other countries might have different rules (Nicaragua, of all places, is known for taking all lighters when you depart from Managua). So no matter what you bring, make sure it is something that, if push comes to shove, you won’t feel too bad about leaving behind.

Check or Carry On a Cutter

Bringing most cutters on a plane shouldn’t be a problem (according to the TSA, blades smaller than four inches are good to carry on), but you never know how the rules are going to be enforced. So fancy cutters, if you must bring them, should go in checked luggage.

Travel is the perfect time to bring along that cheap cutter you got as a throw-in. And remember, if all else fails you can always cut your cigar with your fingernail; just don’t use your teeth.

Be Weary of Fake Cubans

Traveling overseas is great as you have access to cigars from that island south of Miami, but don’t assume you’ll easily be able to find legitimate Cuban cigars. For years, Americans have been buying and smoking Cubans overseas, even though technically this violated the Cuban Embargo. Now, with restrictions being eased, it is perfectly legal for an American to smoke a Cuban cigar while abroad. (Bringing Cubans into the U.S. is still illegal, expect for a small quantity directly from Cuba.)

Fake Cuban cigars are everywhere, especially at vacation spots visited frequently by Americans. The best way to ensure you are buying authentic Cubans is to shop at an official Casa del Habano. Beyond that, here are two easy tips to avoid the most obvious fakes: (1) If the price is too good to be true it is certainly fake, as prices are fixed and nobody’s relative or friend is getting them at a discount straight from the factory; and (2) There has never been any Cuban cigar made with a glass or plastic top box. (I still see pictures of glass top Cohiba boxes in cigar groups on Facebook, only for a dozen or more people to tell the poster the unfortunate news that they were swindled. Repeat after me: All Cuban cigars in a glass top box are fake.)

Carry on Some Booze

Unless you are heading to a country that doesn’t allow alcohol, there is nothing wrong with putting a bottle or three in your checked bag (though you may have to pay taxes on them). But what is often overlooked is that you can actually carry on booze in small amounts.

When carrying on, alcohol is subject to the same rules as other liquids, meaning no container more than 3.4 ounces and all liquids must fit in a one-quart sized bag. Mini bottles (usually 50 ml.) are well under that limit, and you can fit five or six in one Ziplock. If you are planning on cracking these open on the plane, know that most airlines have a rule against alcohol not served by the flight attendants. Practically speaking, though, if you are discrete about it you probably won’t get caught.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Tip: Father’s Day Gift Guide 2016

25 May 2016

Fathers Day Gifts

Father’s Day is less than a month out, and chances are you’re still looking for a gift for pops. If your father happens to enjoy his cigars (or whiskey), here are some suggestions you can have ready for dad to open on June 19th:


Giving the gift of cigars is not as easy as it sounds. Personal preferences can be finicky and there are so many cigars to choose from. Ideally, you’re giving him a cigar he wouldn’t usually buy for himself. (Think a Padrón Anniversary or a Fuente Opus X if he usually smokes standard-issue Padróns or Fuentes, respectively.) For more ideas, read our Guide to Giving the Gift of Cigars. One specific suggestion always worth considering is a Cigar Rights of America (CRA) sampler, which includes ten high-end cigars plus a free membership in CRA.

Cigar Accessories

Every cigar enthusiast needs a great table lighter, travel lighter, cutter, ashtray, travel case, humidor, etc. Instead of buying cigars, think about giving the gift of a cigar accessory that can last a lifetime. Many regular cigar smokers I know won’t spring for a nice case or lighter, so it makes the perfect gift. Lately, I’ve really been appreciating this Lotus triple-flame lighter and my Stingray Skin Tampa Fuego case.


There are lots of good bourbons being made these days, but some old standbys are becoming harder and harder to find. Sure, who wouldn’t want a bottle of Pappy as a gift? But the increasingly exorbitant prices you’d pay ($1,000+ for a 20 Year Pappy) make it hard to justify. One good bourbon you can still find with relative ease is the nine-year-old Knob Creek Small Batch (~$32). Full of caramel, oak, and a little spice, it is a bourbon novices and connoisseurs alike can enjoy. For rye fans, the new Pikesville Six Year Rye is a full 110-proof flavor bomb. Any single malt fan would appreciate Glendronach 15 which, although it has been discontinued, can still be found and is the closest thing to Macallan 18 available for under $100.

A Good Book

A good book is always appreciated. If you are looking for a specific recommendation, you could do worse than The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure, an informative and visually appealing coffee table book. In his recent review of the book, my colleague wrote: “Spectacular. That is the only word I can think of to adequately describe this large-format, colorful book that explores every imaginable facet of cigars.”

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tip: Sensibly Shaving Your Cigar Spending

23 Mar 2016


Soon after the new year is when many cigar manufacturers announce price increases, so the spring seems like an appropriate time to consider some ways to stretch your cigar budget.

To that end, here are a few suggestions for ways I’ve gotten more cigars for less without having to cut back on enjoyment.

Go low. Try some of the lower-priced entries from quality manufacturers. But not just any of them. Look for cigars you enjoy that the big online retailers frequently mark down as come-ons. Two that I almost always keep in my humidor are Perdomo’s Lot 23 Robusto and Holt’s Old Henry Robusto, a house brand made by My Father Cigars for the Philadelphia-based retailer. Lot 23 Robustos can almost always be found for around $4.50 each by the box, but 5- and 10-packs show up on sale at considerably less. Holt’s usually offers Old Henry Robustos at $4 apiece by the box of 25. But they almost always have a freebie attached that lowers the per-stick cost even more. Sometimes it’s a sampler pack, though lately it has been a triple-flame torch lighter.

Look for a new look. Keep abreast of manufacturers changing the look of their cigars. A redo in packaging often means big price reductions on the cigars with the old look that are still on tobacconist shelves. Retailers need to move them so they can display the latest incarnation. I got terrific bargains on numerous old Avo vitolas when Davidoff discontinued some and dressed the others in new bands and boxes. A similar situation developed when Davidoff redesigned the Camacho line a couple of years ago.

Back of the pack. If your tobacconist has a discount table or holds periodic sales, be prepared beforehand. You can do this by keeping an eye on what cigars aren’t selling. In other words, don’t look just for what’s new. Look for what’s old. Try one and, if you like it, watch for them to hit the bargain bin. I recently scored a box and a half of La Jugada Habano Double Coronas at half price. I knew I liked La Jugada with some age, and I’d have been willing to keep them for a while. But in this case, I not only got a bargain, but the tobacconist had kindly aged them for me because they’ve been sitting on the shelf for close to two years.

So, what tips and tricks do you have to save money on cigars? Share the wealth so we can all do better.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tip: Six Ways to Enjoy Cigars More in 2016

3 Feb 2016

Version 2

We all know about beginning-of-the-year resolutions. Lose weight, exercise, get more sleep… And we all know how most of them end up. Broken. (Statistically, by now, over a third of resolutions are already broken.)

But cigar resolutions are different. They can be easy to keep because they increase your enjoyment. Here are a few suggestions for 2016:

Take better care of your cutters and lighters. Neither of these tools requires all that much maintenance, but a little work will pay off. Keep your cutter clean. A blast of canned air will push out tiny bits of tobacco that can jam the mechanism and dull the blades. And while you have the compressed air handy, shoot a little in your lighter to eliminate debris and keep the butane flowing freely.

Venture outside your comfort zone. Try something from a manufacturer you never smoke, pick up a cigar with a different wrapper or blend, spring for an ultra-premium when it’s time to celebrate, or dig into the bargain basement once in a while. Sure, you will come up short on occasion, but you might find a new favorite. At the least, you’ll learn more about your likes and dislikes.

Clean up. Dump the ashtrays when you’ve finished smoking. Without fail. No one—and I mean no one—likes the sour, nasty smell of old ashes and butts.

Check out some oldies. New doesn’t always mean better. There is a reason some smokes have been around for years and years. People like them and buy them regularly. It’s also nice to know that a cigar you enjoy will always be available.

Introduce someone to the joys of cigars. We’ve all got friends who have never tried a premium cigar. Can they really turn down an invitation to watch a game, enjoy a drink, or just chew the fat at your local shop or in your backyard?

Enjoy. Whatever you find best about cigars, do a little more of it this year.

You likely can come up with more resolutions of your own. No matter what you decide, here’s to the best cigar-smoking year ever!

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Tip: How to Take Care of Your Butane Lighter

20 Jan 2016

Did Santa leave you a new lighter under the tree? A butane-burning beauty that will make you feel like a true connoisseur when you light up your prized cigars?

Congratulations. Now it’s up to you to treat it right.

We’ve all read and heard sad tales of expensive lighters that too soon ended up as non-functional paperweights. The good news is that these days lighters seem to perform much better than they did not so long ago.

You can increase the likelihood that your new lighter will age into a reliable, trusted old friend through the years by following a few simple tips.

Read the instructions. Yes, I know this runs counter to just about everyone’s instincts. But spending a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the lighter’s ins-and-outs will pay off in the long run. After all, do you really want to set your hair on fire because you turned the flame adjustment the wrong way?

Use top-grade, multi-refined butane. It is expensive, but worth it in the long run. Butane lighters have tiny openings and the smallest bits can create clogs. Butane that has been refined multiple times means cleaner fuel.

Pay attention to the fill indicator. Don’t increase pressure by trying to squeeze in more fuel than the lighter is designed to hold. It might not cause damage, but why take the chance?

Bleed before refilling. Usually this is accomplished by pressing the fill valve and allowing the remaining butane to escape, but be sure to follow your manufacturer’s directions. Again, ignoring this might not create a problem, but investing a few seconds can’s hurt.

Compressed air is a great tool. A quick blast from the can periodically will keep the lighting mechanism clean and reduce the possibility of a clog.

Finally, enjoy your lighter. And if Santa missed you this year, you can always buy yourself the gift you want.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys