Cigar Aficionado

Break The Codes

Posted June 19, 2000, 3 p.m. e.s.t.

If you have been buying new Cuban cigars, you've probably noticed a new code printed on the bottom of the boxes. The key to the new code has already been published on a few Internet sites. The code doesn't tell you where the cigars were made, but it does let you know when they were put in the box. And for the first time ever, the month and the year are there for us to see without any key or password.

Nonetheless, when a colleague in Havana contacted members of Habanos S.A., the global distribution company for Cuban cigars, they refused to give us any information about the code. They even denied its existence.

Maybe they don't have Internet access, so they don't know that the information is already in the public domain. Or maybe they are caught up in some time-warp, cold-war mentality and believe that the world is against them, even keen smokers of Cuban cigars like you and me who keep part of their island afloat buying their cigars. What more can I say?

It's sometimes hard to understand what they are thinking at Habanos. However, it's time for them to go public with the code, since they have done something that helps us make better-informed purchases of Cuban cigars, not to mention the benefits to the cigar trade that strives to sell their product in the best way possible.

So, for the record, here is how the code works. It's very simple.

The first three letters of the code stand for the month in Spanish and the two numerals that follow indicate the year. For example, the code "ENE00" refers to January 2000, which in Spanish is "Enero 2000." February 2000 is "FEB00." March 2000 is "MAR00." And so on.

Here is a list of all of the months:

January -- ENE
February -- FEB
March -- MAR
April -- ABR
May -- MAY
June -- JUN
July -- JUL
August -- AGO
September -- SEP
October -- OCT
November -- NOV
December -- DIC

The years are a no brainer -- "00" simply stands for 2000.

The new code is quite a change from the old ones, which were something out of a spy novel, although they were deciphered by hardcore Cuban-cigar lovers. They included NIVEL ACUSO from the mid-1980s to 1998. Then we had CODIG UNETA until mid-1999.

A code briefly went into effect until January. I could never see a simple pattern to it, but it went like this:

June 1999 -- EP00
July 1999 -- ES00
August 1999 -- EA00
September 1999 -- EO00
Ocotober 1999 -- LLE00
November 1999 -- LL00
December 1999 -- LR00

The code above also included letters indicating the factory that produced the cigars; however, the factory code changed on a monthly basis. Therefore, no one could set up a key to the factory code like before. The people at Habanos were pissed off that cigar lovers -- especially Americans! -- were buying cigars according to factory. So cigars from top factories such as José Martí and Heroes de Moncada were snatched up, while those from other fabricas were left on the shelves.

As far as I know, the Cubans have decided not to include factory information with the monthly code -- which I must say is a great shame. It's important for consumers to know where the cigars were produced. It's certainly not our fault if a factory makes substandard cigars. If those cigars are not bought by quality conscious consumers, then the factory managers will get the message that they had better improve their smokes. But free-market ideas are not widely accepted in Havana at the moment.

There has been talk of some type of factory indication being included in the new green guarantee seal on boxes of Cuban cigars. At least in theory, this may help the Cubans control quality themselves. Any insider information on the new factory code would be greatly appreciated. Until then, I think I will send this column to Habanos by fax in case some people in the organization have not heard about their new code. Or…maybe post, Morse code, courier pigeon, or even smoke signals would be more appropriate.

Related Stories:

Posted September 27, 1999
Cubans Plan to Change Box Codes Again

Posted May 7, 1999
New Cuban Box Code Cracked

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