Cuba fights smuggling of island's famous cigars

Customs officials seized nearly 25,000 boxes of contraband cigars last year as part of an anti-smuggling initiative, Cuban news agency AIN reported Tuesday.

Cigars are one of the island's most important exports, worth about US$340 million (Ђ265 million) annually. But a recent rise in tourism has increased the black market for the product, prompting customs agents to tighten controls.

Some 80 percent of the cigars were seized at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, often from travelers headed to Panama or Mexico, customs official Col. Pedro Pupo told AIN.

Other airports in Santiago de Cuba, Varadero and Holguin accounted for the rest of the contraband, he said.

AIN reported that customs seized 24,690 boxes of cigars last year, plus 335 kilograms (740 pounds) of false seals and stamps that are used to pass off lower-quality cigars as authentic Habanos.

Travelers are allowed to leave the Caribbean island nation with 23 cigars without restrictions, but for any amount above that they must show receipts from cigar stores approved by Habanos S.A., Cuba's cigar marketing firm, reports AP.


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