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Cigar Fact
Cigar News
Abit of History
Cigar Sensibility
Hand Made Cigar News
Avoiding Counterfeit Cubans

Cigar Fact

Cohiba, the word used to name one of Cuba's most famous brands of cigars, which was created for Fidel Castro, is taken from the term for tobacco used by natives of the Caribbean hundreds of years ago; cojoba.

When President Kennedy was preparing to sign the Cuban trade embargo into law, he instructed aide Pierre Salinger to acquire at least 1,000 of the President's favorite Cuban stogies (H. Upmann Petit Havanas) the previous night. Salinger found 1,200 and this bit of insider information enabled Kennedy to enjoy Havana smokes until his untimely death.

On Cuban cigars, the terms 'Made in Cuba' and 'Made in Havana' are considered interchangeable because virtually all Cuban cigars for export are made in factories in or around Havana. For more than a century, a Cuban cigar and a Havana cigar have been synonymous.

To help keep workers mentally stimulated, the tradition of the lector, or reader, evolved in Cuba years ago. The lector would sit at the front of the gallery and read books, poetry, or newspaper stories to the rollers. At some Cuban factories, the tradition of the lector continues. In many factories throughout the Caribbean, however, the lector has been replaced with native salsa music, blaring from portable radios.

Tobacco is like a sponge: left in dry conditions, it quickly turns hard and brittle. When exposed to humid air, it quickly absorbs the moisture and becomes silky and pliable. After aging, the dry tobacco leaves are wetted, gently shaken to remove excess moisture, and placed in a steamy room until they're pliable enough to be rolled into cigars.

Cigar News

Cigar Diary: U.S. Customs and Cuban Cigars

Our European editor discovers that America's borders are safe and secure against Cuban tobacco products

By James Suckling, published May/June 2008

After a week in Havana at the annual cigar festival, our European editor discovers that America's borders are safe and secure against Cuban tobacco products

I had a feeling it wasn't a good idea that I had those loose cigars in my bag the moment I left the Meliá Cohiba hotel in Havana in the dark at 5:30 a.m. to catch the 7:25 flight to Cancún. But there wasn't anything I could do about it. They were in my courier bag, and I wasn't going to give them to my taxi driver, or just leave them in the room.

Cancún was not my final destination that early March morning after a gala dinner that capped a five-day cigar festival on the island. I was going to catch a flight to Dallas and then to Santa Ana, California, for the 50th birthday party of a high school buddy. My port of entry into the United States was Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

I had good reason to be a little nervous. I have an affluent Mexican friend who was strip-searched in DFW just because he made a joke to a Customs official. Another friend at the gala dinner told me to "have fun in Customs in Dallas tomorrow. They are real bastards."

Technically, even licensed travelers to Cuba, like myself, are not allowed to carry any goods from the island into the United States, except for art, literature or other information material. But I figured a dozen or two cigars weren't going to set off an international incident. And I didn't have to leave them in the States because I would be returning to my home in Italy about a week later. The Cuban cigars, let us say, were in transit. Moreover, U.S. Customs had never stopped me before. In fact, a number of times Customs officials had just said to go right through even though I told them that I had a few cigars.

However, I knew I was in trouble the moment I arrived at immigration and the officer wanted to know what sort of business I was in. I said I was the European editor of Cigar Aficionado. My customs and immigration form noted that I had been to Cuba as well as Mexico.

"When was the last time you were in Cuba?" he asked.

"This morning," I replied.

With that, he drew a big red "C" in the corner with his felt pen. I was directed to the customs hall for inspection. I wasn't that worried about it, though. The worse thing that they could do was confiscate the cigars.

I walked into the vast inspection area, which included six or seven booths with long, stainless steel tables behind them. The place was empty and almost echoed. One of the three Customs officers on duty was already checking out a couple who looked as if they had been on my flight.

My Customs officer didn't really know what to think when he read that I had been to Cuba. He asked me for press credentials and a license from the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. I politely told him I did not need to carry a license to travel to Cuba. "It falls under the general license," I said to him in as friendly a way as possible.

He said that he had to speak to his supervisor, and left me standing in the empty search area. I felt as if I were back in third grade in Los Angeles when I was often told to stand in the corner for punishment. But this was more serious.

"How many cigars do you have?" he said, when he returned after three or four minutes in the adjacent office.

I told him that I had 15 or so. "Let me see them, please," he said. "Don't you know that we have an embargo with Cuba?"

I tried to explain that I knew all about the embargo and that I had been going to Cuba for 17 years. I knew that I wasn't supposed to bring the cigars in, but I wasn't planning on leaving them in the States.

"When are you going back to Europe?" he asked.

"In about a week," I said.

"How am I supposed to believe that you wouldn't smoke them while you are in the United States?" he said.

I guess he had a point. It would be very tempting to smoke them in Los Angeles with a few friends. He went back to speak to his supervisor.

His supervisor finally came out and said he was really sorry that they had to confiscate and destroy the cigars. "If you were in transit today, I would let you go," he said. "But you are staying in the States for a while. We are going to have to follow the law."

Another officer then came out with a menacing-looking, five-inch hunting knife. At first, I had flashbacks to the movie Deliverance but, in fact, the knife was only to cut up the cigars. I stood and watched every one cut in two—lengthwise—and thrown into a wastebasket. They included a selection of torpedos, the new Partagas Serie P in tubos and some yet-to-be-released Partagas Serie D No. 5 Limited Edition 2008.

"This is the part of my job I really hate," said the officer, as he cut the cigars in two with great precision.

I don't begrudge any of them. They were just doing their jobs. And they were nice guys too. I told them that I wish they could just take the cigars and smoke them themselves. "What a waste to cut them up," I said.

They said that as much as they would like to smoke them, they had to destroy the cigars. They were very straight shooters. We spoke about Cuba for a while. They were really interested in the current political situation. Then we spoke about cigars too. They said that just about every day the same thing happens, although most of the cigars people brought from Mexico looked fake. The officers are busiest during the summer.

The whole experience was sort of surreal considering less than 24 hours before I had been smoking cigars in Havana with more than 1,000 cigar lovers and merchants at a gala dinner that resembled a cross between this magazine's annual Big Smoke in Las Vegas and a Broadway production with lots of food, wine and rum thrown in. Check out my blogs and videos on the event at

I heard some people say that this year's festival—the 10th annual—was not as good as previous years', but I thought it was one of the best. Cuba's cigar festival is a great chance for cigar lovers from around the world to compare notes and share a cigar. A lot of the interaction happens in cigar shops, factories and restaurants in Havana—well outside the official events.

Thank God Havana hasn't really gone nonsmoking, even though a few years ago attempts were made to impose a ban. It's not easy to hang and smoke anywhere nowadays considering all the antismoking laws. Even Mexico recently went nonsmoking in public places.

The wave of health fascism is not stopping the Cubans from coming out with some great cigars. I had the chance to smoke this year's edicion limitadas and they are some of the best ever. They include Cuaba Piramide, Partagas Serie D No. 5 and Montecristo Sublimes.

Here are my scores (all were tasted non-blind) and partial notes:

Cuaba Piramide (52 ring x 6 1/8 inches): It is super refined and long with light coffee and nutty character. 93.

Montecristo Sublimes (54 ring x 6 1/2 inches): Espresso bean, roasted meat and earth under the tobacco. 92.

Partagas Serie D No. 5 (50 ring x 4 1/3 inches): This is essentially a Serie D No. 4 but short. However, it has a different flavor profile—more spicy. It's full and balanced. 91.

I also smoked the new H. Upmann Magnum 50 and Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure Especiale. These are both line extensions to the premium cigars in both brands. I gave the Upmann 92 points. The new Epi was very mild. 88 points.

A number of cigar merchants at the festival were also showing off prototypes of their regional editions for this year. These are cigars made for specific markets; they are usually produced for two years with a minimum of 600 boxes.

One of the best smokes of my trip was a Ramon Allones Phoenicios for Lebanon. It was loaded with coffee, spice and espresso bean character. 95 points, non-blind. Here is an official list of regional cigars for this year, according to Habanos S.A., the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars:

Spain: Ramon Allones Grandes (49 ring x 7 inches)

Asia Pacific: Por Larranaga Belicosos Extra (52 x 5 1/2) and Bolivar Short Bolivar (50 x 4 3/8)

France: Ramon Allones Especial de Allones (52 x 5 1/2) and Bolivar Petite Libertador (50 x 4)

Lebanon: Ramon Allones Phoenicios (54 x 6 1/2)

United Arab Emirates: Punch Robusto (50 x 4 7/8)

Hong Kong: Bolivar Amonia (57 x 7 1/4 )

Portugal: Vegas Robaina Petit Robusto (50 x 4)

Switzerland: Bolivar Legendarios (50 x 6 1/8) and Juan Lopez Maximo (48 x 6 3/16)

Caribbean: Juan Lopez Short Torpedo (50 x 5)

Adriatic: La Gloria Cubana Marshall (50 x 4 7/8)

Another development announced at the festival was the increase in the production of tubed cigars. It seems that most of the top cigars are now going to be produced in tubes, which come in three- and five-packs. For instance, the Siglo I is now going to be packaged in packs of three tubes, which means that all the Cohiba Siglos will come in tubes now. In addition, Partagas Serie D No. 4, Partagas Serie P No. 2, Punch Punch and Bolivar Royal Corona will be sold in tubes. The Serie P is the first piramide, or torpedo, to come in a tube from Cuba. It's packaged in a super hipster, black and red phallic-shaped aluminum tube.

This is a very user-friendly improvement for Cuban cigars. Not only is it handy to carry a tube in your pocket, the tubes don't crush the cigars and they allow them to maintain their humidity. It's also easier on your pocketbook to buy a three- or five-pack than a full box of 25 or 50, considering the high prices for Cuban cigars now.

One Habanos executive also pointed out "that it made sense as publicity of the brand as well. We can't advertise in many countries now because of the antismoking laws. So why not do a little of our own advertising on the tubes?"

I think that it has more to do with selling more cigars. Cuban cigars have become so expensive that not everyone can afford a full box. This is why the Cubans are also increasing the production of boxes of 10 cigars.

I asked a panel of Habanos officials at a festival press conference about price increases. They failed to mention how much they will rise, but it appears there will be the usual increase based on inflation in Europe. "Whether the price increases are passed on to the consumer is up to each individual importer," said one Habanos spokesman.

We all know that Cuban cigars are never going to be cheap. They are even more expensive when U.S. Customs cuts them in pieces and throws them in the garbage.


A Bit Of History

We do not know when it was first grown, or smoked, but we can be pretty certain that the inhabitants of Europe were unaware of tobacco until after Columbus s epic voyage of 1492.

Two of his sailors reported that the Cuban Indians smoked a primitive form of cigar, with twisted, dried tobacco leaves rolled in other leaves such as palm or plantain. In due course, Spanish and other European sailors caught the habit, as did the Conquistadors, and smoking spread to Spain and Portugal and eventually France, most probably through Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal, who gave his name to nicotine. Later, the habit spread to Italy and, after Sir Walter Raleigh's voyages to America, to Britain.

Smoking was familiar throughout Europe - in pipes in Britain - by the mid-16th century and, half a century later, tobacco started to be grown commercially in America. Tobacco was originally thought to have medicinal qualities, but there were already some who considered it evil and it was denounced by Philip II of Spain, and James I of England. The word cigar originated from sikar, the Mayan-Indian word for smoking, which became cigarro in Spanish, although the word itself, and variations on it, did not come into general use until the mid-18th century.

Cigars, more or less in the form that we know them today, were first made in Spain in the early 18th century, using Cuban tobacco. At that time, no cigars were exported from Cuba.

By 1790, cigar manufacture had spread north of the Pyrenees, with small factories being set up in France and Germany.

The Dutch, too, started making cigars using tobacco from their Far Eastern colonies. But cigar smoking only became a widespread custom in France and Britain after the Peninsular War (1808-14), when returning British and French veterans made fashionable the habit they had learned while serving in Spain.

Production of "segars" began in Britain in 1820, and in 1821 an Act of Parliament was needed to set out regulations governing their production. Because of an import tax, foreign cigars in Britain were already regarded as a luxury item.

Soon there was a demand for higher quality cigars in Europe, and Spanish cigars were superseded by those made in Cuba, which was then a Spanish colony, where cigar production had started during the mid-18th century. Cigars, European smokers discovered, traveled better than tobacco. The cigar probably arrived in North America in 1762, when Israel Putnam, later an American general in the American War of Independence (1774-1778), returned from Cuba, where he had served in the British army. He came back to his home in Connecticut, where tobacco had been grown by settlers since the 17th century, with a selection of Havana cigars and large amounts of Cuban tobacco seed. Cigar factories were later set up in the Connecticut area, processing the tobacco grown from the Cuban seed. In the early 19th century American domestic production started to take off and Cuban cigars also began to be imported in significant numbers. But cigar smoking did not really boom in the United States until around the time of the Civil War in the 1860s, with individual brands emerging by the late 19th century. By then the cigar had become a status symbol in the United States.

During the same period, cigar smoking had become so popular among gentlemen in Britain and France that European trains introduced smoking cars to accommodate them, and hotels and clubs boasted smoking rooms. The after-dinner cigar, accompanied by glasses of port or brandy, also became a tradition. This ritual was given an added boost by the fact that the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII and a leader of fashion, was a devotee, much to the annoyance of his mother, Queen Victoria, who disliked smoking.

Cigarettes, or paper cigars, first appeared on the scene in the early 19th century as a cheap alternative to cigars. The introduction of cigarette-making machines, in the 1880s, accelerated the growth in popularity of this form of smoking, which had become dominant by World War I.

As a response, the production of machine-made cigars began in Cuba in the 1920s, after which both the manufacture and smoking of handmade cigars fell into a slow but steady decline.

Smoking in general has, of course, become much less popular since the publication of the American Surgeon General's report on its effects on health in the early 1960s. But since the early 1990s, there has been a major revival in the popularity of handmade cigars: they have become chic once more, thanks to the enthusiasm shown for them by stars, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Woods, Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore and model Linda Evangelista, demonstrating that, among the rich and famous, cigars are just as popular as ever.

Cigar Sensibility

Little did Mark Twain realize when he coined the phrase, "If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go," that it would become the battle hymn of this decade's most vogue fashion statement-cigar smoking. It's been hard to ignore the phenomenon. A dormant industry up until a few years ago, cigars have made an incredible comeback. Manufacturers are reporting record sales and can't keep up with the orders. Investors have been snatching up public offerings from cigar companies. A humidor previously owned by John F. Kennedy fetched a whopping half million dollars at an auction last year.
Why the sudden resurgence in popularity? Most industry experts attribute the growth to a number of factors. Certainly, the 1992 debut of Cigar Aficionado, an upscale magazine produced by Wine Spectator publisher Marvin Shanken, played a large part in elevating the awareness and status of cigar smoking. It introduced a new generation of consumers to cigar events, cigar clubs, and terms like "cigar-friendly establishment." No longer looked upon as a symbol of vulgarity or pomposity, the cigar's association with the entertainment industry has helped propel it to downright respectability. Hollywood stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson, among others, have adorned the cover of leading magazines, brandishing their favorite "stogie." George Hamilton successfully launched a line of cigars under the H. Upmann label, and recently opened a cigar bar in the New York, New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas bearing his name. Even women, who in the past were derided for the practice, have developed a passion for cigars and are consuming them in record numbers.

Statistics aside, what is it about cigars that makes them so darned appealing? Quite frankly, they taste good. Like a fine wine, the flavor characteristics vary from cigar to cigar, and even within a particular brand. Cigars can range from smooth and creamy in flavor, all the way up to spicy and peppery, as with Cuban cigars. And quite frankly, there is simply no better way to finish a meal than by enjoying a fine cigar with a glass of cognac or port.

The aura, the ritual of cigar smoking has created a whole new setting for social interaction. It is quite common today for strangers to begin a conversation by sharing thoughts about the brand of cigars they're enjoying. It is not surprising, therefore, that cigar bars have been opening up across the country in astonishing numbers. In years past, one would simply purchase a cigar for home consumption. Nowadays, cigar lounges with names like Club Macanudo, The Cuba Club, and The Grand Havana Room are catering to young professionals who can enjoy the comforts in a living room-type setting, but with cocktail service, big screen television, and even the rental of private humidor lockers. Chiropractor and entrepreneur Dr. Craig Berko has even developed a successful nationwide networking event called, aptly, "The Cigar Schmooze."


what's a half-smoked cigar from Elvis Presley worth?

Hammer time:
Collectors of cigar memorabilia had a great Labor Day weekend:
o A tipped cigar, half-smoked by Elvis Presley, complete with a photo of a young Presley smoking the cigar evoked some wild bidding on eBay. The item drew 10 bids and finally sold for a stunning $456.00! Never underestimate the power of The King!

The seller was the famed Elvis memorabilia hound Robin Rosaaen, who identified the cigar as a Roi-Tan, given to her in person by Presley (look closely at his right hand in the photo above, courtesy Ms. Rosaaen) during a visit in October 1972 in Beverly Hills, California.

o An authentic 1920s bakelite "Humijar" from Ramon Allones, complete but with a visible crack that ran along the back was a hot item on eBay. An estate item, it was used for many years as a humidor for pipe tobacco and drew 37 bids, finally selling for $860.00!

o Another Ramon Allones jar, this time the well-known ceramic Sevilla Humijar, made into the 1970s, was on offer. This example was in excellent condition and drew 45 bids, finally selling for $675.06, one of the highest prices ever seen for this item.

o Two examples of the sister jar to the Ramon Allones, the Partagas Sevilla Humijar, were also up in auctions that ended Monday and yesterday. The first was in good condition and finished with 25 bids and a hammer price of $565.00. The second was in excellent shape and attracted 28 bids and sold for $520.00.

What about cigars? It was all Opus X, all the time:

o There was one lot of Fuente Fuente Opus X cigars on sale on eBay (despite its no-tobacco policy), a mixed box of 43 Opus X cigars including 25 Perfecxion No. 4 (5 1/8 x 43), 12 Perfecxion No. 5 (4 7/8 x 40), three Fuente Fuente (5 5/8 x 46) and two Belicoso XXX (4 5/8 x 49), plus one God of Fire cigar and God of Fire lighter from Prometheus International.

This eclectic group drew 21 bids and ended with a final price of $710.00, an average of "only" $16.51 per cigar.

o Cigars International broke up an Opus 22 collector's set, a special box of Opus X cigars created to raise money for the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. Only 500 are made annually and are distributed for sale at $750 apiece by Prometheus International.

Up for auction were four of the specialized shapes from the set:

The Chili Pepper (5 inches by 60 ring), which looks like . . . a chili pepper, with a closed head and foot and a slight curve in the shape. Three were available and went for $49 (two) and $47 (one).

The LBMF (4 x 48), a wild-looking perfecto with a closed foot and a fantail head. Only one was on auction and it went for $105! Holy cow! That's $26.25 an inch!

The Shark (5 5/8 x 56), an odd cigar with a round head and a box-pressed foot. Two were offered and sold for $45 apiece.

The 952R (5 3/4 x 50), a pyramid-shaped cigar. Two were available and both sold for $43 each.

In total, the eight odd-shaped Opus Xs garnered a total of $426.00, or $53.25 each! Pretty wild, especially when one considers that the average price of all the cigars in the Opus 22 set is "only" $34.09.
~ Rich Perelman

Handmade cigars account for just 3% of worldwide sales

Los Angeles, September 11 - "The global cigar market, estimated at roughly 15 billion units, is highly concentrated in geographic terms. More than 96% of all sales are recorded in Western Europe (Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom) and the United States, which account for 55% and 41% of the market."

That's the introduction to Altadis, S.A.'s overview of the worldwide cigar market. It's accompanied by a chart which shows that:

o 97% of all cigars sold worldwide are machine-made and only 3% are premium handmades.

o 72% of the monetary sales volume comes from mass-market cigars and just 28% from premiums.

It's about the same story in the U.S., where the Cigar Association of America estimated that 9.05 billion cigars were consumed nationally in 2005. However, only about 4.7% of these were premium cigars and the rest were machine-made. The dominant cigars in the U.S. are not Macanudo and Romeo y Julieta, but Swisher Sweets, Phillies and White Owl!

And those brands aren't standing pat. Sweet and flavored cigars have been all the rage and Phillies has now introduced - it had to happen - a Sugarillo size (4 1/2 inches by 28 ring) "when sweet isn't enough."

And Dutch Masters, which is reported to be the leading brand in the nation with a natural-leaf wrapper, introduced Honey Sports Cigarillos in February and was honored with a "Best New Product Award" in the tobacco category by Convenience Store News.

So what about these cigars? Zino Davidoff, in the 1984 edition of The Connoisseur's Book of the Cigar called them "candy," noting they are "lighter than light - virtually colorless - lightened, treated with powder or other products, scented and washed". To be fair, we had to try them out . . . and we did:

[U.S.: available in 14 sizes]
Made by Altadis U.S.A. in Selma, Alabama, there are standard-style cigars in addition to many flavored shapes. The non-flavored shapes have a homogenized tobacco leaf wrapper and binder and short-fill tobacco inside. The top is pierced, an advantage for short-filler cigars since a standard guillotine cut might open the cigar too widely and disturb its integrity.

This is a mild cigar, with a slightly spicy aroma and a sweet taste on the finish. It smoked quickly and easily and offered a modest, toasty flavor without much brightness or depth compared to a long-filler, handmade cigar. Simple and basic, it was easy to light up and easy to put down.

Swisher Sweets:
[U.S.: available in 11 sizes]
This Jacksonville, Florida tradition from the Swisher International is the nation's largest-selling cigar. It's aptly named, as its sugary sweetness dominates the taste.
%%pagebreak%% Made with homogenized tobacco leaf wrapper and binder, with short-fill tobaccos inside, the Sweets smoke quickly with a mild body, a medium finish and a slightly spicy aroma. But the sugar taste is direct and constant, although there is a touch of spice on the finish in the second half.

Swisher Sweets are forthright and honest. They are stunningly sweet and proud of it. Smokers looking for complexity and a toned approach to taste should look elsewhere and should be ready to pay more for it. The cigars we tried averaged 80 cents each, including California's 46.76% tax on the wholesale price.

White Owl:
[U.S.: available in 12 sizes]
Made by Swedish Match in Dothan, Alabama, White Owls date back to 1887. Of the three market-leading machine-made brands we sampled, this brand was a bit more complex and offered a mild-to-medium-bodied smoke.

Like the Phillies and the Swisher Sweets, White Owl uses a homogenized tobacco leaf wrapper and binder and short filler. The top is pierced and there is a toasty aroma to go along with a slightly sweet taste.

You really don't notice this cigar much as you smoke it and the flavor is without complexity and rather one-dimensional. That doesn't make it a bad cigar, just an ordinary one that can be smoked easily to pass the time of day.

Normally, we give grades to cigars, but to compare these machine-made leaders with premium, handmade cigars is to compare apples and asparagus. Both can be eaten, but they are otherwise completely different. The non-flavored Phillies and White Owl lines demonstrated a shallow flavor without any complexity, balance or brightness. The Swisher Sweets were as advertised, incredibly sweet and one-dimensional. Moreover, the firmness and feel that smokers expect from a handmade cigar is absent from these brands, all of which feel a little weak in construction compared to long-filler, all-tobacco cigars.

That said, these machine-made market leaders most certainly are cigars and they have their place. Given what they are and what they are meant to be, all would receive a grade of "C: Satisfactory" in their own category of machine-made cigars. But let's not compare them to handmade cigars; that would be unfair.

Do premium cigars matter?

Yes, they do. After taste-testing the nation's leading brands which sell in the hundreds of millions, one can recognize that there is a place for grape juice and a place for fine wines.

The texture, solid feel and complexity of almost any handmade, long-filler cigar is a joy for the hand, lips and teeth after having smoked mass-market brands. And the brightness of flavor present in the best handmades - whether caramelized, creamy, spicy or peppery - is otherworldly in comparison.

Cigars are generally regarded as a luxury item. Premium, handmade cigars may take up only a small part of the market, but like their brethren in other industries - like Aston-Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and others in the automotive world - there is a clear difference.

Viva la difference!
~ Rich Perelman

Avoiding Counterfeit Cubans


Cigar-smoking fans of the classic television comedy Seinfeld might recall Kramer hatching a plan to smuggle in Cubans—as in Cuban cigar rollers, not cigars. His plan goes awry when the rollers turn out to be counterfeit—they’re not from Cuba. Their rolling skills are inept, and hilarity ensues.

What none of us recall as humorous is the experience of buying counterfeit Cuban cigars. If you’ve put down good money for what you thought was a genuine Cohiba Esplendido, Montecristo No. 2 or Partagás Serie D No. 4 only to be disappointed when you lit up, you weren’t in a laughing mood. Smoking a fake cigar just isn’t fun at all.

Counterfeit cigars are a bigger problem than you might think. At the last Las Vegas Big Smoke, executive editor Gordon Mott and I led a presentation on counterfeit cigars. As the seminar began, we polled the audience, asking if anyone had ever purchased a fake cigar. Perhaps 50 hands out of the 500 in the room went up. After the presentation’s conclusion, we asked the question again. This time 200 or more hands were raised.

Cigars are easily faked. An unscrupulous vendor can buy a bundle of simple, unbranded cigars from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua or Honduras for $20, band them with facsimiles of Cuban cigar bands, put them in a copy of a Cuban cigar box and sell them to an unsuspecting cigar smoker for $300 or more. That’s a comfortable profit margin. Fakes of this sort are found all over the United States. Stroll the shops of any tourist area in the Caribbean and you’ll likely find fake cigars of all types. Even in Cuba fake cigars abound. Any tourist walking the streets of Havana, especially one that is puffing on a cigar, may be approached by locals offering cigars for sale. Will they be made of Cuban tobacco? Certainly. Will they be the products of the country’s renowned cigar factories? Almost certainly not. The hustler will say he has a friend in the factory who gets the cigars or maybe he has ties to the government, but oddss.