Date: June 2024
Author: Inspector X

The last few years, the cigar industry has seen sales like never before, with a global demand for cigars that surpasses the cigar boom in the 1990s. Sales are through the roof worldwide but let’s break down the cigar sales globally.

The now defunct Ministry of Cigars did this for 2019 and 2020. All the old Ministry of Cigars articles are available in the database of Cigar Inspector, including these and we will continue to do the breakdown in the coming years. It is not exact science, as the cigar exporting countries don’t register where cigars are sold to and production numbers are not transparent either.

Division between USA and the rest of the world

To determine what percentage of cigars goes to the USA and what goes to the rest of the world we used the information from Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco from 2018. In that year, 86% of the Nicaraguan cigar exports went to the USA, with the remaining 14% going to the rest of the world. Although we don’t have new numbers, we know that this is an outdated number and we had to change it to 80/20.

For Honduras and the Dominican Republic, no numbers were available at all. The Dominican Republic historically has a stronger bond with Europe, so for 2019 we used an 82/18 percentage where for Honduras and other cigar producing countries we went with the 86/14 from Nicaragua. We now changed that to 80/20 for all countries.

Why we changed that number has to do with the declined production of Cuba. In 2019, the rest of the world smoked 157.4 million cigars. That number has grown for sure, but if we use the same 86/14 percentages (and 82/18 for the Dominican Republic), the total number of cigars would be 129.6 million for the rest of the world as Cuba’s production has declined with 50 million sticks.

Cuba

For Cuba it’s easy, 100% of their exports go to ‘rest of the world’ due to the embargo of Cuban products to the USA. But pre-covid, Cuba produced close to a 100 million cigars a year. Since covid, Cuba has been hit hard with bad crops and natural disasters. The production collapsed, even though no official numbers have been released, industry experts estimate the production between 35 to 45 million cigars. For this article, we go with the highest estimation of 45 million.

American imports vs global production

The Cigar Association of America estimated imports of 467.6 million cigars into the USA in 2023. That’s divided between Nicaragua with 246.3 million cigars, Dominican Republic with 149.2 million cigars, Honduras with 69.7 million cigars and 2.4 million cigars from Costa Rica, Indonesia, Philippines and other cigar producing countries.

If we use the 90/20 formula then he rest of the world got 61.6 million Nicaraguan cigars, 37.3 million Dominican cigars, 17.4 million Honduran cigars, 0.6 million premium cigars from other countries and 45 million Cuban cigars. A total global cigar production of 629.5 million cigars.

We left out the premium cigars made for the Chinese domestic market as we have no numbers on those. There are a lot of rumours on these numbers and Inspector X is planning a trip to Chinese cigar factories to see the production first hand and to get some official numbers. China is not just a big market for cigars, but a potential big player in the production of cigars too.

These numbers show that the United States is still the biggest cigar market in the world, by far, making up for 74.3% of the global cigar sales.

The breakdown

From these numbers it is obvious that Nicaragua is the biggest cigar producing country, with the Dominican Republic as runner up. That has not changed since 2019. What has changed is the position of Honduras and Cuba on this list. Where Cuba used to produce close to a 100 million cigars a year, it has dropped to 45 million and Honduras has overtaken Cuba.

Nicaragua 48.9%
Dominican Republic 29.6%
Honduras 13.8%
Cuba 7.1%
Others 0.5%

Now if we exclude the USA, to see the position of Cuba in the markets where they are active, we will see a big shift. In number of cigars, Cuba is no longer market leader (in value they still are, by far, due to the extreme price hikes in the last few years) with the Dominican Republic close behind Cuba

Nicaragua 38.0%
Cuba 27.8%
Dominican Republic 23%
Honduras 10.7%
Others 0.4%

It has to be said that if Cuba manages to get their production back to pre-covid numbers, they will take back the #1 position without a doubt, considering the high demand for Cuban cigars. But with all the trouble in Cuba, both with the social unrest and the lack of tobacco, it will probably take them years to be able to produce anywhere close to a 100 million cigars again.

Header image Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash
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