Treasury Department Warns Americans About Cuban Cigars

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

( - Former President Jimmy Carter is visiting Cuba this week, but if he wants to bring back any Cuban cigars, he and any other American tourist must abide by Treasury Department limits or they could face penalties, including hefty fines.

The Treasury Department issued the cigar advisory because the "number of attempted importations of Cuban cigars into the United States is rising."

Only persons returning from Cuba after a licensed visit there are permitted to bring Cuban cigars into the United States, provided the value of such cigars does not exceed $100 U.S. dollars and the cigars are for that individual's personal use and not for resale," said the Treasury Department statement on its website.

Americans are also prohibited from bringing Cuban cigars into the U.S. from third countries.

"Contrary to what many people may believe, it is illegal for travelers to bring into the United States, Cuban cigars acquired in third countries, such as Canada, England or Mexico," said the department.

Penalties for bringing Cuban cigars into the U.S. include confiscation, civil fines of up to $55,000 per violation, and in some cases, criminal prosecution.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control administers the economic embargo against Cuba. That's the same office that issues licenses for American citizens who request permission to travel to Cuba.

The office is asking those who suspect violations of the embargo to contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control office in Washington or their local law enforcement office.

Last February, Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Raul de la Nuez told the official Castro government newspaper "Granma" that Cuban cigars are in great demand.

The website CubanLeaf estimates that some three to seven million cigars are smuggled into the United States every year, mostly by businessmen, military personnel and people returning from vacations in foreign countries.

E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.