Cigar Aficionado

Havana Corner: The Luxury World of Cuban Cigars?

If you like your Cuban cigars without bands, then you better hurry and buy what's left in cabinet smokes on the market. Habanos S.A., the global distribution company for Cuban cigars, says that it's slowly moving towards placing bands on all smokes coming from the island.

According to sources on the island, the new policy should be established by the end of the year. "We want people to know what they are smoking," he said.

Until now, aficionados could, for the most part, buy Cuban cigars without bands when they purchased cabinets of 25 or 50 smokes. The cigars come in cedar boxes in bundles with a yellow ribbon around them. Some of the exceptions have been Cohiba as well as Davidoff and Dunhill, when they were made on the island. But this is all to change.

I have mixed emotions about the new policy. I have always liked the look of nude cigars, lying in their natural beauty in a cedar cabinet. There is a reverse snobbism to smoking these cigars. No one knows what you are smoking, but you know they are damn good. And need I say it, it's a lot easier taking them into the States when customs officials don't know what you are bringing in your bags!

But at the same time, it is nice to see the brand you are smoking, which you can do when the band is attached, and if you don't want to be ostentatious, you can always carefully remove the band. Most Latin Americans as well as Spaniards don't like smoking their cigars with the band on. They say that you're a show-off if you do. So they usually remove the band before they smoke.

Regardless, recent price increases in the world market are certainly going to make more of us want to keep the band on our cigars in respect to what we paid for our Cuban smokes. Since January, most export markets have increased their prices from 5 to 15 percent in response to price hikes from Cuba. This was not the handiwork of Habanos, but a factory-wide increase in the price of cigars leaving their doors. It was not an across-the-board increase, but one that depended on the brand and the size. The Cuban government obviously needs the money in view of the island's continuing economic problems. And you can't blame it.

In addition, the Cubans closed all their cigar shops in late May for three days to raise prices across-the-board 30 percent. Sources, I spoke to at Habanos confirmed the huge price increases. "We are not the owners of the shops," said one senior official from Habanos. "The government is, and it decided to make the increase. What can I say?"

He claimed that island prices for cigars would still be significantly less than in other countries, even Spain. "I think that if a smoker buys his cigars in Havana, he will still pay 25 percent less than in Spain," he said. I, however, have my doubts.

Significant prices increases, new policies in packaging -- it's all beginning to make cigars sound too much like luxury goods, a business that I am interested in due to my living in Tuscany and knowing many people in that world. I have to think back just to February, when, during the cigar festival in Havana, I heard panelists discuss that very topic for about 30 minutes. They all wanted to place cigars in the same world as Rolex watches, Prada shoes and Ferragamo ties. And they said that there was no limit to how much more Cuban cigars could go up in price.

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