Havana Cigars

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Havana cigars are famous for their quality and taste
but what do Cubans smoke?

Partagas Cuban Cigar Factory Havana

Cuban cigars are tightly rolled bundles of dried and fermented tobacco, one end of which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the smoker’s mouth and lungs.

Cigars manufactured on the island are generally thought to be without peer, thanks to both the uniqueness of the Vuelta Abajo district in the 

Pinar del Río Province at the west of the country, where a microclimate permits unequalled tobacco to be cultivated, and to the expertise of the nation’s cigar makers.

Partagas Factory

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Selecting a cigar

Three of your five senses are involved when selecting Havana cigars:

Sight: the wrapper must appeal to the eye. The range in color of a cigar depends on: 

a) how the plant was grown, as shaded plants have lighter colors, while fully exposed plants are darker 

b) the section of the plant the leaf came from, as bottom and middle leaves are lighter and the top leaves tend to be darker 

c) the fermentation period, as longer fermentation leads to darker leaves. 

Touch: your cigar should feel solid but cushiony to the touch.

Smell: rich aromas should surface from both the box and the foot of the cigar.

Fake and Illegal Cigars

Cuban cigars are looked upon as one of life's most generous luxuries. There are a lot of advantages to being a cigar counterfeiter, although the money is not quite as excessive as in the drug trade. The number one rule of recognizing counterfeit Cuban cigars is the age-old saying "caveat emptor" – buyers beware.

The truth is that most "Cuban cigars" that Americans smoke, are not Havana's at all. Counterfeit cigars are frequently put in authentic used boxes and then sold as singles in clubs, bars and restaurants. Here are some tips that might save you a few bucks:

  1. If you see others smoking cigars that are said to be Cuban, look if the ash is a distinctive dark gray, unlike most non-Cubans that tend to have almost white ash.
  2. Look at the cap wrapper. The real cigars are finished in such a way that the cap has 3 individual wrappers that you can easily see.
  3. There should be no cellophane on handmade cigars except in the 3/5 pak Petacas style packaging. Machine made cigars are typically packed in cellophane sleeves.

The counterfeit industry on the island is bigger and more organized than the genuine industry. The bottom line is, any tobacco not bought from a government-licensed merchant is most certainly guaranteed to be a counterfeit of some kind. US Americans are easy targets since most of them have never seen, much less smoked, a legitimate Cuban cigar. 

From the planting of seeds to nailing the box shut, Cuban cigars require upwards of 100 steps to complete the coveted masterpiece. Counterfeit cigars, although appearing genuine, are inevitably a disappointment, due to poor quality tobacco and inferior construction. With so many new smokers looking for Havana cigars, the fake-cigar situation is more widespread than ever these days.

Embargo on Cuban Cigars

On February 7 1962 President John F. Kennedy extended the trade embargo against Cuba, and the tobacco from the island was banned. The story goes that president Kennedy asked Pierre Salinger one of his assistants to buy 1000 Cuban cigars before the embargo became effective.

Today the consumption and the sale of authentic cigars from Cuba is illegal in the United States. Several former manufacturers from the island moved to the Dominican Republic or other Latin American countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua.

Importation of Cuban Tobacco into the US

There is a ban on the importation into the United States of original cigars and other tobacco products from the island. This prohibition extends to such products acquired in the country even if the traveler is licensed by OFAC.

Read the complete regulations and laws on Cuba sanctions (www.treas.gov) Cuban tobacco update

(Source: US Department of the Treasury)

Legal Cigars

Some citizens have left Cuba and started their own production of Cohiba cigars in the Dominican Republic. This are good quality Cohiba's, but not the Cuban originals. Because of the manufacturing is done outside the country without Cuban tobacco this Cohiba's are legal in the United States.

Good quality 'Cuban style' cigars made in the Dominican Republic can be legally bought online.

Interesting Facts

Q. What is that cedar sheet doing in my box?

A. This cedar is used to light your cigar. Traditional matches tend to give cigars a bad sulfur flavor, so you can just tear of a strip of cedar, light the end of it, and use it to light your cigar.

Q. What are the bands on the cigars really for?

A. In 18th century Russia, the Empress Catherine II decorated her cigars with delicate silk bands, so that her royal fingers wouldn’t get stained while she was smoking. This inspired the bands that you will find on most tobacco.

In October 2004, US President George W. Bush’s administration tightened the ban on US Americans importing Cuban tobacco. A notice released by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control stated “there is now an across-the-board ban on the importation of Cuban-origin cigars. The rules formerly permitted Americans licensed to travel to the island to bring back to the United States up to 100 dollars’ worth of goods including tobacco.

Partagas Havana Tobacco factory in Cuba

View inside the PARTAGAS tobacco factory 
near the Capitolio in Central Havana

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