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Cuba's Cigar Summit

Cigar Lovers the World Over Descended Upon Havana in February to Celebrate the Past, Present and Future of Cuban Cigars
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 4)

So, without research, without budgets and without a business plan, I just closed my eyes and listened to my heart.

Thus in September 1992, a new publishing category was created for the lover of the good life: the first cigar magazine. At the time, there were about 3 million cigar smokers in the United States. Today, there are an estimated 15 million cigar smokers in the United States.

Cigar Aficionado's mission seven years ago was simple and direct: "To educate and entertain. To help expand the market by introducing more and more people to the pleasures of a fine cigar." That mission remains the same today.

One of the early controversies we faced was whether or not to include Cuban cigars in our tasting reports. With the embargo waving its giant tail, thus making Cuban cigars illegal in the United States, clearly it was politically incorrect or maybe even "political suicide" to include Cuban cigar coverage in Cigar Aficionado.

Our view was simple. We could not, we would not, publish a serious international journal on premium cigars without including Cuban cigars. For a London- or Madrid-based publishing company, this would not have even been a question. But for a New York-based American publishing company, it caused considerable governmental and domestic cigar industry tension. Neither wanted it!

The magazine's international success supports our decision without further explanation. But when, in the summer of 1994, I interviewed President Castro for a cover story, the outrage in the United States from the Cuban-American community was considerable. Nevertheless, the issue was a great success because people in America, and around the world, wanted to hear from, and learn more about, a world leader.

While I don't want to be political today, I see a connection between what Cigar Aficionado has done to educate people about cigars and the potential for people in America to learn more about Cuba. The days of the cold war are far behind us now, and in every sector of the United States--in politics, in business and certainly among the American people--there is a growing momentum to end the misunderstandings of the past and begin a new era. The curiosity about Cuba is at an all-time high. And the desire is strong to be involved in the new Cuba that is being shaped today with the help and investment of the rest of the world. The time has come for new approaches on both sides of the Florida straits. But the big question remains: When will the embargo end?

And what will the end of the embargo mean for Cuban cigars? Will exports increase? Will prices increase? Will the total market grow? Will American smokers be willing to pay two or three times what they now pay for a Dominican smoke? Will they prefer the milder taste they have been smoking or the richer, spicier, stronger taste of a Cuban cigar? There is a multitude of questions, all without answers today.

As an industry, Cuba must ask itself: "Where do we go from here? Do we grow? Do we need to grow? What if we don't? What if we can't?"

Again, the future is unpredictable.

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