NEW YORK -- Partagas. Cohiba. Montecristo. Bolivar. Punch.
For aficionados, the mere names of Havana cigars conjure fantasies of the ultimate smoke.
But more and more cigar smokers are not content merely to imagine the delights of a Cuban Cohiba, which can fetch as much as $50. U.S. Customs Service inspectors seized a record number of Cuban cigars in fiscal 1996 -- valued at more than $1.1 million -- with more than half of those seizures made at New
York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
Officials predict that the number will rise as much as 20 percent when this year's figures come in.
"Interest will continue to rise," said Darryl Nitke, publisher of Cigarshop.com., an Internet site devoted to cigars. "First, because of the flavor. And second, because of the intrigue and status of smoking a Cuban cigar."
Customs inspectors confiscated goods from travelers entering the United States at JFK 17 times during the first six days of this month -- boxes of Cuban cigars on 14 of those occasions.
There are no direct commercial flights between the United States and Cuba, so passengers fly in from other countries, such as England, Mexico and Canada, where the cigars are legal.
Travelers are not fined because there are no penalties for smuggling cigars through the passenger service area, other than forfeiting the expensive smokes.
Pub Date: 8/10/97