Will the United States Normalize Its Relationship with Cuba?

Will the United States Normalize Its Relationship with Cuba?

On December 17th, the White House released a statement outlaying a plan to normalize relationships with Cuba. This is a huge change after decades of Cold War policies in place, and follows a recent exchange of prisoners between both countries. President Obama, speaking about the changes, said, “Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.” He goes on to add, “We are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.” There is finally going to be a U.S. embassy in Havana. It will be the first time since January 3, 1961 that America has operated an embassy inside Cuban borders, so this is again historic news.

This is also fantastic news for cigar enthusiasts! It is now legal for the first time in decades to import Cuban cigars. If you travel to Cuba, you can bring back $400 worth of goods, including $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol products—including Cuban cigars. This is still pretty restrictive. You won’t be able to bring back much in the way of boxes, but at least now you can legally transport back a few stogies of your choice, and perhaps one of the cheaper boxes. What’s great about this too is that now it is legal to smoke Cuban cigars in the U.S. While obviously people have been doing this for decades without consequence, it was technically a violation of the law, and now it isn’t. The U.S. is the largest market for Cuban cigars already, despite the trade embargo. With restrictions lifting, the industry might thrive even more.

FDA Update: Support on the Congressional Front

FDA Update: Support on the Congressional Front

Early this year, the news hit that the FDA is seeking to extend its control over tobacco products. If the FDA is granted this control, it will have a great deal of regulatory power over product packaging, marketing, outreach, and more. And if those products were to include premium cigars, that would mean an end to the beautiful packaging that we have come to expect on our premium cigar boxes. Artwork would be replaced by warnings (you can see an example here...), all of this in the name of preventing America’s youth from indulging in tobacco.

Of course, as you and I both know, cigars are hardly a “gateway” drug for a lot of teens, who are far more likely to go and pick up a cheap box of cigarettes than an expensive premium stogie. It would be insane for the FDA to impose the same restrictions over the cigar industry—which is focused on quality and artistry, not on volume of sales or addicting America’s youth.

If you have been following the situation, you know that a congressional committee proposed early on that premium cigars be excluded from these changes. The FDA opened up a comment period, and a lot of cigar activists reached out with their concerns and opinions (including, I’m guessing, a number of readers here on this site).

So what’s the news? It’s good news, because it looks like Congress is hearing us. In the recently introduced “CRomnibus” budget package, the premium cigar industry was discussed as follows:

“Regulations.- The Committee is encouraged that FDA has provided options for a way forward on distinguishing between premium cigars and other tobacco products in its recently proposed rule ''Deeming Tobacco Products To Be Subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; Regulations on the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products and Required Warning Statements for Tobacco Products'' (Docket No. FDA-2014-N-0189). In particular, the Committee notes that FDA is considering excluding premium cigars from the scope of this proposed rule through Option 2. The Committee believes this could be a viable solution, given that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act makes little mention of cigars throughout the legislation, and there is even less evidence that Congress intended to focus on the unique subset of premium cigars. The Committee notes that premium cigars are shown to be distinct from other tobacco products in their effects on youth initiation, the frequency of their use by youth and young adults, and other such behavioral and economic factors.”

So it looks like Congress at least is starting to understand that premium cigars should not be included in the new act, because premium cigars have nothing to do with indoctrinating America’s youth into tobacco culture. This is a very good sign that we are winning the war against proposed tyrannical legislation that would hurt the industry and the community.

It is important though to know that the fight is not yet won, and that the 114th Congress is going to be sworn in on January 6th, and that is going to mean a whole new slew of changes. While the current Congress appears to support the premium cigar industry and community, we will be faced with the challenge of reaching out to a new group of state officials. Our voices are going to be more important than ever. So keep checking back for more updates as we head into 2015 (you can join Cigar Rights of America to support the cause and get the latest updates in real-time), and remember to keep writing your senators and representatives, and continue to reach out directly to the FDA. If we stay the course, we can win this one!

Cigar Release: La Flor Dominicana 707 Ligero

La Flor Dominicana 707 Ligero

La Flor Dominicana is proud to announce the release of the 707 Ligero. The 707 Ligero is a full-bodied blend of Dominican filler and binder wrapped in an aged Ecuadorian Habano wrapper. Measuring in at 7 x 70 the 707 Ligero will be largest ring gauge regular production cigar we have ever produced. The 707 Ligero will be presented in (10) count boxes and will have an MSRP of $10.50 per cigar and $105.00 per box. The 707 Ligero will begin shipping to Premium Cigar Retailers nationwide the week of December 15, 2014.

Swisher International to Purchase Drew Estate

Swisher International to Purchase Drew Estate

Big news today in the cigar world (you might already have heard the rumors if you follow the blogosphere closely...). Swisher International Inc. has just announced that they have entered into a purchase agreement with the Drew Estate Tobacco Company. Swisher International is one of the world’s leading tobacco manufacturers, best known for their top-selling brand Swisher Sweets. Drew Estate was founded in 1996, but quickly has grown into one of the world’s most successful cigar companies and is very well known among lovers of premium cigars for brands like My Uzi Weighs a Ton and Liga Privada. As a subsidiary of Swisher, Drew Estate will continue to operate under its current management team. The merger was a decision made for the mutual benefit of both companies.

Speaking about the acquisition of his company by Swisher, Jonathan Drew, co-founder of Drew Estate, stated, “This is a dream come true. From the moment we met the team at Swisher and began speaking of a possible acquisition, it was clear that, as a family business, they understood the culture we have created and completely supported our desire to keep our family at Drew Estate intact.”

Swisher President and CEO Peter Ghiloni commented, “The products produced by Drew Estate and its distribution partners Joya De Nicaragua, Royal Agio Cigars, and Tsuge pipes are top-quality market leaders in their respective segments. The creativity, passion and innovation of Drew Estate employees and management are a perfect match for Swisher, and we look forward to welcoming them to our family.”

This early on in the merger, the details of the transaction have yet to be disclosed. We do know at this point though that the transaction is expected to close during Q4 2014. Stay tuned for more updates as the year unfolds.

General Cigar Hires Sam Leccia, Acquires Leccia Tobacco

Sam Leccia

Today, General Cigar announced more major changes (just a few days after the acquisition of Torano cigar brand). Firstly, they have made the decision to hire Sam Leccia, famous to have worked on Cain and Nub cigar lines when he was at Oliva Cigar Company, to serve as “Cigar and Blend Specialist.” Secondly, they have acquired Leccia Tobacco Company as part of the deal. Beginning today, they will take over the marketing and distribution duties for the Black, White, and Luchador lines.

Sam Leccia has cultivated a reputation for unique approaches to crafting and marketing cigar lines. His contemporary blends are inspired by traditional blends, but put a modern twist on the flavors and aromas. That same creative quality is evident in his marketing campaigns. He will bring that same expertise and innovation to the table at General Cigar, where he will continue working on his own brands as well as other cigars manufactured by the company. This partnership should have incredible results for both parties.

Expressing his optimism about the new hire, Dan Carr, president of General Cigar, stated, “I am impressed with what Sam has achieved. He broke into the industry, worked tirelessly for years, and made a name for himself by developing interesting cigar brands. Sam will provide additional creative talent to complement the enterprise of our existing team.”

Sam Leccia stated, “To say that I am thrilled to be joining General Cigar Company is a gross understatement … Having creative freedom, access to the resources of General Cigar, and the ability to work with the company’s master blenders and tobacco experts is like a dream come true.”

General Cigar Acquires Toraño

General Cigar acquires Torano

General Cigar (known for their CAO and Macanudo brands, among others) announced on Thursday, September 11th, that they have acquired Toraño Cigars. The transfer took place on the same date as the announcement, and is the union of two legendary cigar companies. With a century of experience in the industry, Toraño has developed a number of prominent blends, including Exodus, Loyal, Casa Toraño, Vault and Master Collections. These popular lines will remain unchanged under General Cigar. General Cigar will see to it that they are produced with the same quality and care as ever.

Speaking about the acquisition, Dan Carr, president of General Cigar stated, “The acquisition of the Toraño brands represents an opportunity for us to strategically expand our portfolio. Our companies have been intertwined for over 50 years and I look forward to working with Charlie Toraño on plans to celebrate the upcoming centennial and to carry forward the vision, passion and innovation that is synonymous with the Toraño name while also leveraging our resources to bring even greater excitement and reach to our trade partners and consumers.”

General Cigar and Toraño have been working together ever since the Toraño family left Cuba. Reflecting on their long partnership, Charlie Toraño stated “There is no other company that I would rather have continue my family’s legacy.”

Cigar Release: Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera

Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera

Drew Estate Tobacco Co. announced today the release of the first “Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera”, a concept cigar by Willy Herrera. Made at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate in extremely small batches, the Tienda Exclusiva line is specially crafted for one retailer per release, with only a few releases scheduled per year. The inaugural “Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera” blend was produced for the owner of Barrister Cigars in Union, New Jersey, David Mallow, following the 2013 New Jersey Cigar Festival.

When asked about the blend, Willy Herrera responded from Estelí, Nicaragua: “This was one of the blends that I was working on through 2012 and 2013. David smoked it at the Festival and kept coming back for more. Eventually, he smoked every cigar I had brought, which I thought would be enough for the entire week! I knew he loved the blend and it felt right assigning it to him for my first Tienda Exclusiva.”

David Mallow, owner of Barrister Cigars, said that, "the ‘Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera’ is a truly beautiful project that I am honored to be involved with. It’s no secret that Willy is one of the most talented tobacco blenders out there, and we can’t wait to have the cigar in our humidor.”

As stated previously, every “Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera” blend is a limited quantity production cigar made at La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate. Jonathan Drew noted, “I recommend you don’t sleep on this one. These are one and done. Willy has a lot on his plate right now as Master Blender of La Gran Fabrica Drew Estate. As I’ve said before, ‘Boutique is in the Heart’ and Willy has spent so much time creating and experimenting with blends. We have some real gems out of the blends he has worked on. Now, it’s time to get them into production.”

The “Tienda Exclusiva by Willy Herrera” for Barrister Cigars is packed in 10-count boxes and will sell for $12.00 MSRP per cigar, plus applicable state taxes. They will be offered for sale on September 2nd from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM at a Barrister Cigars event in Union, New Jersey, with Willy Herrera and Jonathan Drew hosting the event.

Cigar Release: Dunhill 1907

Dunhill 1907

General Cigar announces the world premiere of 1907 by Dunhill®, a medium-bodied, four-cigar collection that will be available at fine cigar shops nationwide, and at premium tobacconists worldwide, beginning in May.

1907 by Dunhill marks the first full-time new Dunhill brand since its Signed Range was introduced in 2001, and commemorates the first box-pressed cigar in the entire Dunhill portfolio, with the range’s new Toro size.

Yves Politi, head of British American Tobacco Ltd.’s Dunhill cigar division said, “In the century since opening its flagship tobacco shop in London, Dunhill has remained synonymous with exquisite cigars in elegant packaging. 1907 celebrates the Dunhill brand’s time-honored tradition of tobacco mastery, while incorporating elements that speak to the modern cigar smoker’s passion points: a fuller taste profile, accessible pricing and classic sizing.”

Dunhill 1907

Handcrafted by artisans in Santiago, D.R., 1907 by Dunhill is made with a proprietary blend of Dominican ligeros and Brazilian Mata Fina, bound with Dominican Olor and wrapped in a hearty Honduran Olancho leaf. The new Dunhill expression delivers complex flavor with nuances of spice, and a rich, creamy finish.

1907 by Dunhill consists of these four sizes: Rothschild (4.5” x 48; SRP per cigar $8.25); Robusto (5” x 52; SRP per cigar $8.50); Churchill (7” x 49, SRP per cigar $9.25) and the box-pressed Toro (6” x 54, SRP per cigar $9.00). Each frontmark is packaged in an 18-count wooden box with a sliding lid.

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