Cigar smoking used to be a smelly habit pursued by portly businessmen and favorite uncles. But in the last couple of years, cigars have become trendy with all age groups. It's a trend marked by unprecedented sales, an explosion of cigar magazines, shops and even nightclubs. The most popular )and expensive( of the cigars are Cuban and the growing demand for Cuban product has created a flood of phoney cigars. Some police estimates say 80% of the Cuban cigars sold in Canada are fakes. And what passes as tobacco in some of these cigars would make the most dedicated puffer think twice.
How does it works
Before you try and spot fraud cigars it helps if you understand how Cuban cigars are produced and distributed. All authentic Cuban cigars are called Habanos, and are controlled by a government corporation of the same name. Cigars are collected each day from the various factories and sent to the Habanos warehouse to await distribution. Located throughout the world are authorized Habanos dealers who get a large portion of these cigars, yet only a small portion of what they desire. A much smaller portion is divided amongst the twenty or so domestic cigar stores around the island. Almost all of these stores are located in Havana.
Far from the sights featured in a tourist guide, a shadowy world of underground commerce thrives in the back streets of old Havana. Illegal factories produce fake cigars. As for the raw material, much of it is stolen from the legitimate factories, tobacco leaves swept from the floor, cigar bands, finished cigars, the company seals, and even the cedar boxes. It's risky business. If caught, inside workers can lose their jobs. A casual security check at the door is supposed to stop theft, but for many Cubans earning a monthly wage of 200 pesos ($8) the temptation to get in on the action is irresistible.
The traffic in phoney cigars is so big that professional couriers ("mules" they're called) smuggle them out on passenger planes or aboard ships leaving Havana heading for the rest of the world,. All the western nations are tight-lipped about Mafia involvement, but Cuban authorities have identified channels being used to export large shipments of fake cigars as those used by drug smugglers
The cigar boom of the late 1990's brought with it two major problems - the first was the proliferation of sub-par cigar lines and the second was the increased circulation of counterfeit cigars. Sub-par cigars have, for the most part, been filtered-out with the rapid decline in consumption that occurred between 1997 and 2001. Companies that did not have a strong foundation in quality were forced out of business. Now, it looks like, major corporations are finally stepping up to weed-out the proliferation of counterfeit cigars. The newest fad on the streets of America are Cuban cigars called "second quality". I can assure anyone that there is no such thing as a factory second in Cuba. If the cigar is flawed, it doesn't leave the country. Any sub-par cigar rolled by students or containing defects is distributed within the country to be smoked by Cubans.
So it seems the cigar industry, the pride of Cuba, has fallen victim to its own success, as counterfeiters cash in on a tradition going back generations. In the 2005 United States cigar market, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would disagree with the fact that there are more higher-quality handmade cigars available at better prices than ever before. To ultimately do serious damage to the counterfeit cigar industry, it will take the efforts of Altadis redoubled and spread all over the globe. But now that the counterfeiters are being taken to task, maybe we can all have the confidence that we get what we pay for.
How to Spot Fake Cuban Cigars
make certain that you purchase your cigars from a legitimate dealer. Buying from your local tobacconist or a reputable mail order business can protect you from forking your money over for a box of fake cigars.
You should approach your meeting with a salesman with skepticism. If you're viewing four boxes and locate a serious discrepancy with one box, there is a good chance that all four boxes are fake. If you're unsure of the authenticity, sit down and smoke a cigar with the salesman. Try and choose a sample cigar that looks wrong or feels hard and may be rolled too tight.
If you have an opportunity to purchase a box of purported Cuban cigars, but have your doubts, take the time to examine the box before purchasing it. Here are a few tips to help you spot the fakes from the real thing.
Cigar Inspection - step by step
First step - The most important thing to examine is the box. Authentic Cuban cigars will contain a green and white warranty seal on the left front side of the box. The seal will contain an insignia that has a picture of a shield and a hat. On the upper right hand corner of the box, you should find a white sticker that is placed diagonally with the word 'Habanos' printed on it. The overall appearance of the box should be neat and clean. If the box appears damaged, smudged, frayed, or marked, avoid it. If the color of the box is dull, don't buy it. Even if the cigars are the real things, their quality may have suffered in transport. If you are in the market for Cohiba, Trinidad, or Q'dorsay brand cigars, know that all authentic Cohiba's will contain the green and white warranty seal on the right hand side of the box.
Second step - On the bottom of the box of cigars, you should find a heat stamp with the words 'Habanos.' The heat stamp should be impressed onto the bottom of the box. Fake Cuban cigar boxes often find other ways to imprint this label, such as using rubber stamps or paper labels. You should also find a factory code stamp at the bottom that is stamped in green, blue or black ink. This stamp will tell you when and where the cigars were rolled.
Third step - If you can open the box, take the time to smell the tobacco. Cuban cigars will have a deep, rich aroma, unmistakable to dedicated cigar aficionados. If the smell is off, or very weak, chances are you do not have a box of authentic Cuban cigars in your hands. The cigars should be facing the same way, and the top row may appear slightly flattened. The caps on all the cigars should appear identical, and the foot of each cigar should be cut clean. The bands on all the cigars should also be identical, and should be arranged so that they face the same direction. If allowed, test the cigars out by pressing down on them. Feel along the entire length of each cigar, checking for soft or hard spots. The cigars should feel firm yet pliable.
Fourth step - Now examine the cigars. The appearance should be uniform in both color and shape. Consistency is very important. The wrappers should be tight and free of large veins. You should avoid wrappers that appear dry and chalky. Small golden spots are normal, produced by a slight burn when a ray of sunshine is magnified by a drop of water on the leaf. The top face may appear flattened or what is known as box pressed. This is particularly true for torpedo shapes. Remember that cigars should always be tightly packed.
For those aficionados that love Cuban cigars the best protection is to purchase your tobacco from an authorized dealer such as Casa de Habanos or Advertiser If your living in a country that bans Cuban products do your best with what is available. Always be wary and keep in mind that most of the product you encounter is unfortunately not what it is represented to be.