5 Reasons to Stop Smoking Cuban Cigars

A few months ago, Cigar Inspector gave five reasons to keep on smoking Cuban cigars. Lovers of Habano cigars fully agreed with our reasons, while others laughed, called it nonsense and totally disagreed with our words. This editorial will probably have the same effect, but just the other way around. Habanos lovers will disagree now, while fans of tobacco from Nicaragua, Honduras, Dominican Republic and other cigar producing countries will fully agree this time. Let us know in the comment what you think. Here are five reasons to stop smoking Cuban cigars.

1. Bad Quality Control

Cigars have to have a good draw, they have to stay lit, the ash should be firm so it doesn’t fall on the smoker multiple times. And Cubans often lack those qualities. There seems to be some improvement in the last two to three years, but still, if you buy a box of Cuban cigars, you can expect at least 5 out of the 25 cigars to have some sort of construction problem.

The problem is the result of a sloppy cigar rolling technique. Back in the day, cigars were rolled ‘entubar’ style, where each single leaf was rolled into a thin tube, and all those thin tubes were rolled into a cigar. This creates a perfect draw, but it takes time. If you find a cigar that is rolled entubar style nowadays, you know it’s a special release or very expensive due to the amount of manual labour. In countries outside Cuba, most factories practice a style where the filler leaves are folded harmonica style before rolled into a cigar. This takes a bit longer than just grabbing the filler and bunching it together, but it’s way faster than rolling a cigar ‘entubar’ style. Yet this harmonica style results in a better draw. In Cuba, rollers don’t use this harmonica technique, they just stack some filler and roll it in a binder. This is risky and can create plugs.

Outside of Cuba, factories use a lot of drawmaster machine, machines that test the draw resistance of a cigar before applying the wrapper. Bad cigars are deconstructed and rolled again. A relatively small factory like Joya de Nicaragua has more drawmaster machines on the premise than there are in the whole country of Cuba. So, the badly rolled cigars outside of Cuba have a much bigger chance to be caught in quality control than in Cuba, and it shows.

2. Lack of Variety

Cuba grows a lot of tobacco, but it doesn’t grow a lot of variety. Around the year 2000, the Cuban crops were heavily affected by illnesses and the weather so new varieties were tested. And these new varieties, such as Criollo 98 and Corojo 99 replaced all the other varieties of tobacco that grew in Cuba. Outside of Cuba, you find many varieties, Connecticut Shade, Connecticut Broadleaf, Pennsylvania Broadleaf, Piloto Cubano, Habano, San Vincente, Pelo d’ Oro, Rosado, Cameroon, Sumatra and on top of that, tobacco is grown in many places. Each place adds its own characteristics to the tobacco. Corojo from Esteli does not taste the same as Corojo from Jalapa. Connecticut Shade from Ecuador is different than Connecticut Shade from the Connecticut River Valley.

Imagine, you have to make two painting. For your first painting you get a box of crayons contains 3 different shades of brown. For the second painting, you get a box with a whole variety of colours and shades. Which painting will be better? And now apply that idea to cigars.

3. Underaged and Underfermented Tobacco

The Cuban economy is in a bad state. The tobacco crops are controlled by the state, as is the cultivation of the tobacco and the production of cigars. Half of the distribution and marketing is also government controlled, but that is of lesser importance. The Cuban economy depends on the export of Cuban cigars, so they rush the tobacco to the factories. Tobacco doesn’t get the proper time to ferment. Fermentation is an essential step in the process to turn raw tobacco into a cigar. When this step is rushed, there is no way to fix it, not even by aging the cigars after purchasing it. Underfermented tobacco will always taste a bit green and fresh and no amount of aging afterwards will fix this.

Then it comes to aging. Habanos marketing did an amazing job by making it sound that tobacco that is aged 3 years is already a ‘reserva’ and 5 years is ‘grand reserva’. By selling this story, they can sell pretty young tobacco for inflated prices and a part of the cigar community falls for this marketing story. 3 years is considered young in the other cigar producing countries. Many cigars are made with tobacco that has aged for 7 years or more. And that’s just about the aged tobacco.

The cigars itself are also rushed to the market. Why do you have to age Cuban cigars but most non-Cubans are ready to smoke? That’s because the non-Cuban factories already did the aging for you. After rolling, cigars will go through a sick period. During the rolling process, tobacco is moistened again and that starts a micro-fermentation. The last remaining ammonia will be sweated out. Now, because the raw tobacco already had more time to age, tobacco used by the non-Cuban factories already contain less ammonia, and the cigars get time to rest after rolling and before being shipped to retailers worldwide where Cuban tobacco contains more ammonia due to the shorter (too short) fermentation and aging time, so there is more ammonia to sweat out during the so called ‘sick period’. On top of that, Habanos doesn’t wait until that sick period is over, no, they just dump the cigars on the market and let the consumer do the aging job that the manufacturer should have done.

4. Price and Availability

There was a time where you could walk into any cigar shop, anywhere in the world with the exception of the United States, and you would see a full range of Cuban cigars and no non-Cuban cigars or a very small selection of non-Cuban cigars. But now you walk into a cigar shop and you find a small selection of Cuban cigars and a full range of non-Cuban cigars is most shops. Even the Habanos distributor for Asia Pacific is selling non-Cuban cigars in their retail outlets in several countries.

The availability of Cuban cigars is limited. The production is at an all-time low while the demand is at an all-time high. The demand mostly comes from China, where there is no real cigar culture and the rich and famous only want to flex and show that they are smoking Cubans. It is a similar situation as with French wines several decades ago, people told the Chinese that French wines were the best and they started buying all, the same thing is happening with Cuban cigars. This will change as soon as a cigar culture is starting to emerge, and it’s already happening in other South East Asian countries where Chinese smokers are now discovering the high-end non-Cuban cigars such as Opus X and the Padron 1926 and 1964 series. But that aside, the low production and the high demand from China create a problem for the rest of the world, where availability is low. And as a cigar smoker, why would you go through so much trouble if you can find non-Cuban cigars easily, with better aged and fermented tobacco, in a bigger variety of (natural) flavours and with better construction?

Then there is the price. For most Chinese, getting cigars through Hong Kong was the easiest way. Hong Kong is amongst the countries with the highest tax on tobacco. This created a huge grey market of people buying Cuban cigars in other countries and selling them to China, where they are used to the high prices in Hong Kong. Habanos saw those grey market dealers making a lot of money, money that they could make if they raised their prices worldwide to the level of Hong Kong. With lower production numbers, this was also the way to keep revenue up. So, they did, in some markets the prices of Cuban cigars tripled, and newly released cigars, especially for the Cohiba brand, are now several hundred dollars per cigar. And why would you pay a few hundred dollars for one cigar if you can buy a whole box of non-Cuban cigars for that price, that are not lesser in quality or taste?

5. Supporting a Criminal Regime

A reason to keep smoking Cuban cigars is to support a struggling economy, but a reason to stop smoking Cuban cigars is to stop supporting an evil regime. Unlike in other cigar producing countries, the Cuban regime owns (most) of the farms and controls all of the tobacco production. The Cuban regime owns the cigar factories and the brands. Habanos, the company that is the face of the Cuban cigar industry, only markets and distributes the cigars and Habanos is fifty percent owned by the Cuban regime. So, every Cuban cigar you buy puts money directly into the hands of the Cuban regime. A regime that kills political opponents, suppresses the Cuban people while the leaders of the regime living large.

Significant human rights issues in Cuba included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; political prisoners; transnational repression against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, censorship, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and enforcement or threat to enforce criminal libel laws to limit expression; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the country and on the right to leave the country; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including femicide; trafficking in persons, including forced labour; and outlawing of independent trade unions. And by buying Cuban cigars, you put money in the pockets of the criminals that keep this system in place.

I always laugh when I see outspoken, right-wing conservatives on Facebook, proclaiming love for former President Trump, hating on socialism while they pose with Cuban cigars. When you explain that they are supporting socialism with their Cuban cigar habit, they squirm and come up with all kinds of invalid arguments such as “Nicaragua is socialist too” forgetting that the Nicaraguan regime (evil too, no denying there) does not directly profit from the cigar production. But the fact is: they are supporting a socialist (and evil) regime. If you don’t want to support such evil, stop smoking Cuban cigars until there is real democracy and Cuba is free. Once Cuba is free, smoke and buy as many Cuban cigars as you can to support the Cuban people who deserve our support.

Inspector X

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