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Midnight Express in Havana

Cubans tighten customs regulations for cigars
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 2)

I didn't want to be rude, but I was wondering what garbage can he had pulled the cigars from. They were spongy with light wrappers and uneven ends. The box was roughly finished and the paper lining inside looked like used rolling papers. And though the bands looked good, they were the old bands and not the gold-embossed ones now on Cohiba cigars.

"Thank you very much, but I have all the cigars I need," I said to him. If the new regulations help cut the traffic in smokes like these, God bless the government.

The new rules for personal export will also have an effect on the sales of custom-made cigars in Havana cigar shops. This was a booming business in recent years. All of the best cigar shops in the capital have rollers, who are more than happy to roll whatever your heart desires -- from robustos to Salomons. And they are usually a fraction of the cost of the actual brands.

Of course, the blend of tobacco will not be like the original item. According to Fernando Lopez, the head of all of Cuba's cigar factories, the shops get the "leftovers" for custom rolling. Moreover, the rollers do not know the true blend for a Partagas, Cohiba or anything else. Plus, you don't receive the cigars in a box or with a band.

This all said, these custom smokes can be very good cigars and are generally perfectly constructed, a rare attribute in official Habanos cigars until recently. In the past, I knew cigar aficionados who bought only "bespoken" cigars when they were in Havana. A few even said that they did their own tobacco blends -- whatever that means.

However, I doubt the buyers are blending many cigars these days, or even buying custom-rolled smokes. Like fake Cuban-cigar smugglers, they are probably finding it very difficult to get their smokes off the island -- especially if they receive the same treatment from customs that I did on my last trip to Cuba.

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