The upward trend in handmade, premium cigar shipments is continuing. After a remarkably strong 2018—where exports rose by a staggering 9.7 percent, to 362 million cigars—first quarter shipments for 2019 were off to a strong start, increasing by 3.3 percent over the superb 2018 numbers. The figures were released today by the Cigar Association of America.
The pace for 2018 was blistering. It marked the fourth consecutive year of growth, and put the import levels at their highest point since 1997, which marked the final year of the 1990s cigar boom in America. The fact that shipments continued to rise this year—albeit at a slower pace—was good news.
First-quarter shipments were 72.3 million premium, handmade cigars, compared to 70 million shipped in the first quarter of 2018. Nicaragua remained in the lead position for the quarter, and also showed the strongest growth. Shipments of Nicaraguan cigars reached 38.1 million this first quarter, up 3.8 percent from 36.7 million in the same period last year.
Dominican shipments, which ranked No. 2, were essentially flat. There were 20.6 million premium Dominican cigars imported by the U.S. in the first quarter of 2019, compared to 20.9 million for the same period of 2018.
Honduras, which ranks third, had shipments of 13.2 million cigars, up slightly from the 13 million shipped in Q1 of 2018.
No other country is a significant exporter of handmade cigars to the United States. Cuba is a major producer of handmade cigars, but U.S. law prohibits their importation. (American consumers are allowed to bring back small amounts of Cuban cigars when travelling abroad, for personal consumption.)