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Buyer Beware: Counterfeit Cigars

Not the real thing—counterfeits of the top Cuban cigar brands are flooding the world market.
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 4)

So what can consumers do to be sure they are not buying fakes? The most obvious choice is to buy cigars from reputable merchants and for realistic prices. Anyone should be leery of cigars sold under the table or on the street and for ridiculously low prices. Also, take a close look at the packaging. If it doesn't look right, don't buy them. For instance, all bonafide Cohibas now come in varnished wooden boxes in lots of 25 or 50 as well as small paper holders of five. In addition, they should have the green-and-white certification label from the Cuban government, a deeply burnished stamp of "Cohiba," "Hecho en Cuba," "Cubatabaco," and "Totalmente a mano," as well as the factory code on the bottom of the box. Most Cohibas also have "EL" printed in ink on the bottom of the box, which denotes the El Laguito factory, although Robustos and Esplendidos may have other markings such as "FPG" for the Partagas factory. Cubatabaco also has plans this year to introduce a new sticker on the corners of all Cuban cigar boxes, with "Habanos" on it. Don't be shy about checking for the appropriate markings, even in a retail shop.

Yet, even with such measures to curb the growth in counterfeit cigars, consumers continue to be duped. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen counterfeit cigars," says Max Gutmann, the agent for Cuban cigars in Mexico and the owner of the Casa del Habano cigar shop in Mexico City. "It's always a question of getting the cigars for a cheaper price."

The day after I paid $25 for a box of counterfeit Cohiba Lanceros in Havana, the same waiter at the Hotel Nacional asked me whether I wanted another box. I told him that I had all the Cohibas that I needed for the moment. Later, I visited the Partagas Factory and bought a box at full price.

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