Day 5: Behind The Scenes

I had planned to hit up some of the key cigar shops this morning, like Partagas and Club Havana. This is where a lot of action happens during the festival. People just hang out, talk and smoke. It’s a good way to get information. Many people simply come to Havana for the festival to do that, they never attend the official events.

Anyway, I didn’t go to the cigar shops because I woke up dizzy and sick to my stomach. I called the hotel doctor and they came up and checked me out. I thought I had flu, or something. It turned out that my blood pressure was high. Not sure why. Maybe too much coffee and Cuban cigars? Maybe I'm too stressed?

The doctors – there were two of them, a pretty woman and a guy – said that I should not drink beer, which I hadn’t, or eat stuff like pasta. (In Cuba? Pasta?) Stay away from coffee too, he said.

"What about cigars?” I asked.

“You are here for the festival,” said the guy. “Of course, you can smoke cigars.”

I gave him a couple of Montecristo Edmundo Tubos, since he said that he liked cigars. I wish I had a doctor like that at home!

I imagine a lot of the cigar merchants at the event have high blood pressure at the moment. It seems everyone is stressing about all the anti-smoking laws being passed. And I don’t blame them. It sucks.

I was talking last night at a party to the head of Pacific Cigars, who markets and distributes cigars in the Far East. And he said that it’s a disaster, particularly in Hong Kong. There is no public smoking allowed in HK and it’s going to be the same very soon in Macau. “I am not sure where people are going to smoke,” he said. “We have very few outdoor areas to smoke.”

He said that he was through trying to fight the anti-smoking laws. Instead, he was looking for ways to work within the rules – in other words, beat the system. For example, they are involved in cigar clubs in Hong Kong where people can smoke and then the drinks are served next door in a self-service sort of place.

I think his views are healthy. We are never going to change the laws back. We have to let it go. We have to be smarter.

Or, we can all move to Cuba. It’s really great to be able to smoke just about anywhere you wish. Being at the festival makes you understand this. It’s seems that every foreigner has a cigar in his or her hand or mouth.

And the press seems to be everywhere. I am not sure what most of them are doing but they certainly are busy writing notes and taking photos. When I was at El Laguito, the mother factory for Cohiba, it was a media circus. But I still got some cool shots of rollers. Check it out.

Cohiba is now the No. 1 selling Cuban cigar in terms of value, according to Manuel Garcia, the commercial director of Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing company. I am sure that Montecristo is still their biggest seller per unit.

I always enjoy visiting El Laguito. It is as a small and elegant factory with about 100 rollers, or so. Production is limited to about 2 million cigars. Great smokes. It’s a shame about the high prices.
Steve Cohen Oakville, Ontario February 29, 2008 6:12pm ET
Boy, am I glad the BIG Smoke in Havana was not cancelled this year. Any news on the Cohiba Sublime Extra?
Howard White Easton, PA March 1, 2008 11:44am ET
James, move to Easton Pa., I'll introduce you to my doctor, he enjoys CIGARS also.
Jacob Lindborg Denmark March 1, 2008 8:33pm ET
Hey james, i enjoy your blogs... It's true about the champagne! I love a glass of champagne with my cubans. It cleans your palate and is refreshing with a style. Keep up the vidoes!

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