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Interview: Frank Llaneza of Villazon

A discussion with the president of Villazon & Co., makers of Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch.
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 17)

Llaneza: Right now, it would be difficult for me to tell you. I myself don't know. I know about the components, but I can't tell you about the brand or anything because I have no idea.

CA: Can we say within the next couple of years it will be out?

Llaneza: Oh, yes.

CA: From your point of view, what happened in 1992?

Llaneza: In the beginning, Cigar Aficionado and Marvin Shanken got all kinds of criticism. He was telling you in the magazine that the only cigar to smoke was a Cuban cigar. But I've always said that he was doing us a big favor. He was telling people that Cuban cigars were good. I've always said that ours was the only one that was fairly close to a Cuban cigar. That helped us tremendously.

CA: What were your thoughts as the shift in attitudes towards cigars happened?

Llaneza: I never thought it would happen. I never thought we'd ever see any improvements, because the government was so involved in the nonsmoking movement. You couldn't go to a bar or a stadium; you couldn't go anywhere where you could smoke. The creation of cigar smoking as a chic situation, which was created by the magazine, was a total surprise. But it created something that the industry needed. We never had the Arnold Schwarzeneggers or the other stars that everybody admired. We just had people telling the world that if you smoke cigars, it will kill you. We were forced to put stickers on cigar boxes telling you it was dangerous. [California law requires warning labels to be placed on cigar boxes sold in that state, so many cigar manufacturers include them on all of their boxes to save on the cost of singling out production destined for that state.] You know what it is to give a man a box of cigars worth a couple hundred dollars, and for him to see on the box something like, "If you smoke this it will kill you"? But we were still selling them. It's unbelievable.

I was one of the ones who thought having to put that warning on our boxes was going to be the kiss of death. But the opponents of the antismoking movement were a lot stronger than I imagined. After all, somebody's smoking these cigars. Now, I still can't go into a federal courthouse, I can't go downtown and I can't walk into the mall here in Tampa and smoke a cigar. I might even be sitting in a smoking area, and some nut will come over waving his arms in front of his face. But we've overcome all this opposition. I think it is amazing. Maybe it's just backlash. It's like telling someone they can't drink a Scotch or a wine, because it's illegal or you can't get it. There's not enough of it, and everybody wants it. That's what the magazine created.

CA: What was it like from the business side, where suddenly you had more orders than you could fill?

Llaneza: Well, it wasn't bad, I can tell you that. It was something that I didn't expect in my lifetime. The cigar business was good to me and my family, and I love it. You can see it. I don't need to be here anymore. Me and Tino [his partner], we come over here every day, because we start thinking, "What would we do if we didn't have a factory to come to?". We'd have to be home cutting the yard. I'm very happy about it.

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