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Cigar Diary: Mexico's Cigar King

Max Gutmann is one of the world's great collectors of Cuban cigars as well as Mexico's official Cuban cigar agent.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Armand Assante, Mar/Apr 2008

(continued from page 3)

Gutmann: Yes. And it's been difficult for the machine-made cigars because the government has increased taxes on them from 20.9 percent to 140 percent. No one knew about this raise, and it killed the low-end market for cigars in Mexico. The tax is higher than the price of tobacco.

CA: I guess your biggest problem, however, is with fake cigars?

Gutmann: That problem, unfortunately, still exists. It exists everywhere in the world. Our problem in Mexico is both counterfeit cigars and contraband cigars.

CA: When you say contraband cigars, do you mean parallel market cigars? They are cigars that come from other markets at lower prices than yours?

Gutmann: Yes. These are cigars that come from markets with low taxes to high tax markets, like ours. Some people [who buy cigars in Cuba] do not pay the taxes on the cigars when they enter Mexico. So it's easy for them to sell these cigars [here] because they are a lot cheaper than the official ones [which are subject to the high taxes]. The problem is that some of the cigars are also counterfeit.

CA: The problem in Mexico with fakes appears pretty bad. I was in Tijuana the other day on the main high street, and except for the Casa del Habano and another store, all the cigars for sale were fake. What are you doing about it?

Gutmann: We have been making investigations and arrests with the police department. They might go to a store and confiscate cigars and everybody is scared. But then a week later they are all back in the stores. It is the same with all luxury products in the States or Europe...Louis Vuitton, Gucci and others. Just outside of the official stores, there are people selling copies of the real thing. The police come and they go away, but the next morning they are back again.

It is something you have to fight and fight and fight. The whole idea is that people must realize that to smoke great cigars they need to smoke less but smoke the real thing. Everybody knows that you can't buy a real Rolex for $100. So you can't buy a real Cohiba for $5.

CA: But in Tijuana, I saw a lot of fake cigars being sold at the same price as real ones.

Gutmann: This is the problem. And then people who don't know that much about cigars smoke them and say, "You know, Cuban cigars are not very good quality." They are not good because they are smoking fakes.

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