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How do I make sure that I do not buy counterfeit Cuban cigars?

Because of their price and exclusivity, high-end Cuban cigars are copied more often than any other type of cigar.  Each year, thousands of tourists return from Cuba with a ‘great deal’ on a box of cigars, only to find that the cigars taste harsh and unpleasant. In many cases, these products are made from genuine Cuban tobacco – but it’s not the same tobacco that goes into your favourite cigars. The tobacco used is often not properly cured or aged, it may be lower-grade tobacco used for cigarettes, or it may even be tobacco swept off the floor of a factory (analysis has shown counterfeit cigars to contain a variety of debris ranging from glass particles to sawdust and even mouse droppings).

So how do you avoid buying fake cigars?

First, if you’re traveling in Cuba, insist on inspecting the cigars before buying them. A quick look should tell you whether the product is genuine or counterfeit. 

Genuine Cuban cigars are sorted at the factory and boxed with other cigars of similar colour and size. Significant variations between cigars in colour and length are an obvious sign of counterfeits.

Pick the cigars up and feel them; soft spots and uneven construction will be obvious immediately. 

Look at the end of the cigar – you should be able to tell at a glance whether the cigar has been neatly trimmed, and you should be able to tell whether the cigar is in fact a premium product made with “long filler” tobacco (long strips of tobacco that neatly fold together almost like an accordion) or an imitation made with small pieces of tobacco that spill out of the end of the cigar.

Inspect the packaging; cigar bands printed on a laser copier will feature uneven and slightly blurred colours (although improvements in printer technology are making forgeries harder to detect).  Boxes should display an official government sticker and, in the case of handmade cigars, a stamp that says ‘Totalmente a mano”.  Cuba boxes also feature lithographic labels that often have a slightly raised texture on logos and graphics.  Labels that are completely smooth are usually an indication that the labels have simply been copied.

Of course, the best way to ensure that the cigars you buy are genuine is to buy them from a reputable tobacconist. 

When travelling to Cuba, only buy cigars from an official government-run tobacco shop or during a factory tour. Do NOT buy them poolside from a guy who “knows a guy who knows a guy whose cousin’s girlfriend’s brother works at the factory.

When shopping in Canada, purchase your products from reputable shops who specialize in cigars and tobacco products or from established distributors.

At Casa Cubana, we are committed to fighting the problem of counterfeit cigars.  Our Cuban Cigar Specialist, Abel Gonzalez Ortego, has been in the Cuban cigar business for over 30 years.  As an employee of Habanos SA (the official Cuban Government agency in charge of cigars), he was responsible for opening export markets for Cuban cigars in Asia, Europe, Australia and Canada.  In addition, he has worked with the RCMP to help them identify counterfeit products.

Casa Cubana

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