Thursday, January 12, 2017
When buying Cuban cigars, it's 'buyer beware'

Ask any cigar expert and they’ll tell you that Cuban cigars are the best in the world. The fertile soil and unique microclimate, particularly in the Western province of Pinar del Rio, has been utilized for several generations by Cuban tobacco farmers.

According to a Wall Street Journal article from last year, tobacco production is down from 2009 and industry insiders are wondering if the country can keep up with demand. American cigar smokers spend about $4 billion dollars per year on stogies, but at the moment, only 3 percent of the premium, handmade cigars are Cuban. Habanos, a joint venture between the British company Imperial Brands and the Cuban government, have projected a 30 percent increase in American sales totaling an almost $700 million dollar increase in sales should the embargo be lifted.

There are many obstacles in the road to a fine Cuban cigar. Unfavorable weather, insect infestations and aging equipment make the farmers’ work more difficult, but the most problematic step is that of the actual hand-rolling. It can take years to master the art of rolling the perfect cigar and those who do can earn three to four times the wages of other government jobs.

If you go to Cuba and want to buy some cigars, you will have countless offers that always start with “my fring.” That’s right, “fring.” One of my best friends in Havana and I came up with that a few years ago. Of course, they mean “friend,” but it comes out as “fring,” and trust me, you ain’t no “fring” or “friend.” I mean, when some stranger on the street wants to give you a deal, you have to wonder why. The bottom line is, if you want some real Cuban cigars, either buy them directly from a farmer or go to an official cigar shop. Buying cigars in the street can be kind of fun and exciting, but let the buyer beware, “my fring.”

roneal@keysnews.com