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[Update] Covid-19: Cigar Factories React to Viral Outbreak

Honduras shuts down cigar production as other cigar-producing countries take precautions
Mar 17, 2020 | By Gregory Mottola
[Update] Covid-19: Cigar Factories React to Viral Outbreak
Photo/Peter Garritano
Workers sort leaf at the Plasencia factory in Danlí, Honduras.

With now 12 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus, Honduras isn’t taking any chances. On Tuesday, March 17, it imposed a seven-day shutdown on nonessential business, and that includes cigar factories. The shutdown means a halt to production for the third-leading exporter of premium cigars to the United States, a nation that ships 60 to 70 million handmade cigars a year to the U.S.

Honduras also ordered all borders (air, land and sea) to be closed for a week.

“In Honduras, the government ordered all companies to close for seven days,” said Nestor Andrés Plasencia, who owns cigar factories in Honduras as well as in neighboring Nicaragua. “We hope that next Monday we can start again.”

Christian Eiroa, owner of C.L.E. Cigar Co., is also directly affected by the country’s lockdown. He grows tobacco and produces cigars in Honduras and echoes Plasencia’s statement.

“The government shut down all operations in all industries except for health and food,” said Eiroa. “It is being reviewed every seven days. We should have an update Friday or Monday.”

The shutdown could potentially have a heavy impact on companies like Altadis U.S.A., which produces cigars at its Flor de Copan factory; General Cigar Co., which produces Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey in Honduras; Alec Bradley, which has cigars made under contract at the Raices Cubanas factory; and Rocky Patel, who produces a large number of his cigars at one of Plasencia’s factories in El Paraiso, Honduras.

But Patel isn’t particularly worried—at least not yet. “I don’t think it will affect us in the short term,” he said. “We have a significant level of inventory that could last us for six months. We have always had a policy of keeping a large inventory in Florida in case of political disturbances or other issues that could arise in Central America.”

Nicaragua

Nicaragua, the largest exporter of handmade cigars to the U.S., officially confirmed one case of Coronavirus on March 19. Still, no cigarmakers have closed their Nicaraguan facilities yet. Companies including Padrón, Aganorsa Leaf and A.J. Fernandez told Cigar Aficionado on March 17 that their factories in Nicaragua remained open, and many are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“In Nicaragua we are all working, but all precautionary measures to protect our people are being taken,” assures Plasencia, who makes cigars in Nicaragua as well. He cites precautions such as keeping collaborators in the factory as separated as possible and “doing a great deal of handwashing and sanitary measures.”

"Nicaragua’s Health Ministry continues to report that they are monitoring the situation,” said a statement posted by the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua. “The Nicaraguan government has not imposed any restrictions or any quarantine policies due to the worldwide outbreak.”

“We had a very productive meeting this morning [March 17] about this subject. We are also trying to coordinate as much as possible with local authorities and health officials to have all the protocols and contingencies in place," Juan Martínez, president of Joya de Nicaragua.

Martínez added that Joya de Nicaragua is taking precautions in the factory: ensuring workers have hand sanitizers, reducing the use of tools that are shared by people and, when possible, spreading the space between people.

Dominican Republic

(Updated March 20, 2:47 p.m., with news that factories in the Dominican Republic are now closing.)

As of March 19, there have been 34 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and two confirmed deaths in the Dominican Republic.

Arturo Fuente told Cigar Aficionado on March 19 that it has begun the process of shutting down its Dominican cigar factory, which makes tens of millions of premium cigars annually. The operation employs more than 3,000 people and will be closed until April 3.

EPC Cigar Co. closed its factory in Santiago on March 19. “We will be closed all next week,” said owner Ernesto Perez-Carrillo. He said the situation could be be extended another week “depending on the situation. ... Hopefully all will be safe to go back to work in that time.”

Meanwhile Altadis’ Tabacalera de García Ltd., the largest factory in the Dominican Republic, remains open. The Altadis headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale and the distribution center in Tampa are open as well.

“We are taking increased sanitation measures and many staff are teleworking from home,” said Rafael Nodal, head of product capability for Altadis parent company Tabacalera USA.

José "Jochy" Blanco, owner of Tabacalera Palma, has made the decision to close his factory from March 20 to April 6. His factory is responsible for brands such as La Galera, Aging Room and Matilde.

"We have enough inventory in Miami and will do our best to assist all of our clients and customers during this unprecedented time," he said in an official statement.

United States

In the U.S., cases of Coronavirus increase with every news report. Although Padrón’s factory in Nicaragua is still operating, it closed its retail store in Miami. Meanwhile in Miami’s Little Havana section, the small El Titan de Bronze factory is keeping its doors open, but is limiting business to curbside pickups.

The J.C. Newman Cigar Co. has endured two World Wars, the Great Depression and many other challenges throughout its 125-year history. For now, both of the company’s factories—El Reloj factory in Tampa’s Ybor City and Puros de Esteli Nicaragua, S.A., or PENSA, in Estelí, Nicaragua—continue to operate, but the company is monitoring the situation.

“We are continuing to roll cigars as usual at our J.C. Newman El Reloj factory in Tampa, Florida, and J.C. Newman PENSA factory in Esteli, Nicaragua, but we will continue to reevaluate our operations as the situation continues to develop,” said Drew Newman, general counsel. “As a family business, we are very concerned about our employees and their families and are encouraging our staff who are ill, more vulnerable to illness, or need to stay home to care for children or aging relatives to remain at home. We have also asked our sales people around the country to cancel their travel and work close to home for the time being.”

Cuba

No factories have closed in Cuba, but a source from Habanos stated that they are taking preventative sanitary measures without providing further details. As of March 12, the Cuban Ministry of Health confirmed four cases of Coronavirus in Cuba, although that number might increase soon. A Coronavirus-infected cruise ship that was stranded at sea in the Caribbean for weeks has been given clearance to dock in Cuba’s Mariel port.

This is a developing story. Check back with CigarAficionado.com to see any changes in status from country to country.

With reporting from Andrew Nagy, Gordon Mott and David Savona.

(Updated March 18, 10:45 a.m. with new information.)

(Updated March 19, 3:54 p.m. with information from the Dominican Republic.)

Honduras Dominican Republic Nicaragua

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