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An Interview with Edgar M. Cullman Sr.

Chairman of the Culbro Corporation
Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

(continued from page 13)

C.A.: Let's talk about a subject that is somewhat controversial but something that every cigar lover asks about or thinks about and that's the whole issue of Cuban cigars and the Cuban trade embargo. I don't want to put words in your mouth. But on one hand, I have heard you say that under the right set of circumstances, the tobacco grower in Cuba makes the best cigars on earth. On the other hand, you are very adamant on the position that Americans should not buy or smoke Cuban cigars because it is against the law--and therefore it is un-American. Will you tell us why you feel that way, both from a cigar lover's point of view as well as from a moral point of view?

Cullman: I think that it is something that I have thought a lot about and you have heard me express my thinking about that quite often. I think that the taste of a Cuban cigar is a very rare taste, a beautiful taste, and people who like that taste will do anything to get a Cuban cigar. And they do almost anything to get a Cuban cigar, such as bring them in illegally and smoke them illegally. And don't forget that that's against the law. There is a new law that says you can't bring in any cigars from Cuba and people who do bring them in do so at their own peril.

Having said that, what do I think about Cuba? I think if we ever could find a way to deal with Cuba, it would be a great boon for the cigar business. But I'm not a politician. It would add a lot of excitement to the whole industry if we could get some of our domestically made cigars--the less-than-premium cigars--produced with some Cuban tobacco in them. People haven't smoked anything with Cuban tobacco and would like to try it. And if they try it, some of them may like it.

We used to blend our White Owls and our Robert Burns with all Cuban filler. So that was a domestic cigar with all Cuban filler. There could very well be a revival of the cigar business when people want to taste Cuban tobacco. Now how that's going to be worked out, when and if we recognize Cuba, I don't know. I think [the end of the embargo] is going to come, but I don't know when because I was told in '74 that it was around the corner and now I'm told it's around the corner. I hope during my lifetime I'll see us recognize Cuba.

I think to the American taste, for the most part, Cuban cigars are too strong. People are going to have a tough time smoking all Cuban tobacco.

C.A.: Do you have a best-case scenario for when the embargo ends?

Cullman: Yes, I do. The best-case scenario will be: the embargo ends and the American government says that until we can buy enough tobacco to satisfy the American demand by the U.S.-owned manufacturers to make whatever cigars they want with Cuban tobacco, it will hold up allowing Cuban cigars in. That was the understanding we had with the State Department way back in the 1970s when we thought we were going to have some rapprochement with Cuba.

C.A.: Does that mean that you, the manufacturer, will have the first option to buy Cuban tobacco in bulk to ship to your factories in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica to blend with whatever tobaccos you choose? Or make clear Havanas? And I assume you mean with Havana wrappers?

Cullman: Yes. And the various brands could have some Havana wrapper.

C.A.: In other words you might end up having separate versions of Partagas: a Dominican version and a Cuban version?

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Comments   2 comment(s)

Ed Harvey — Auburn, WA, United States,  —  August 31, 2011 3:19am ET

Mr, Cullman you will be missed, and it would have been interesting to see, an updated interview, since things have changed quite a bit since this one was done, along with the loss of smoking rights, and the Cigar Industry in general...

Derek Wotton — Deltona , Florida ,  —  July 21, 2013 6:56pm ET

Wow a look into the past!

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