Brief History of Cigars
The history of the modern cigar begins in Cuba. It was in 1717 that the King of Spain, King Phillip V, took control of the colonists’ tobacco production on the island. Cubans sowed and harvested the tobacco plants, which were then shipped to Spain where cigars were manufactured. A hundred years later, the monopoly was revoked, and by the 1830s the cigar industry in Cuba was beginning to thrive. Since that time, Cuba has remained at the forefront of the industry, along with the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua.
It is important to understand that tobacco was a product solely of the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. When Columbus arrived in 1492, Native Americans on Cuba were observed
inhaling the smoke of a large roll of unknown leaves wrapped in a maize leaf. The rolled-up leaves were referred to as a “tobago” and it is from this word that the modern word tobacco is derived.
In 1959, Fidel Castro took control of Cuba. Shortly afterwards, Castro abolished many of the
well-established cigar companies on the grounds that their existence promoted self-indulgent capitalism. Following this, the Cuban tobacco industry was monopolized by the state-run Cubatabaco company. Cubatabaco oversaw all aspects of production and allocation, both domestically and internationally.
In 1962, as a result of the Bay of Pigs incident and the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba, denying the island of one of its major export destinations as well as making it illegal for U.S. citizens to purchase Cuban-made cigars. Ironically, before signing the executive order imposing the trade embargo, Kennedy, an enthusiast of Cuban cigars, ordered his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to obtain one thousand cigars from one of the most well-known cigar producers in Cuba, H. Upmann.
As a result of both the trade embargo and Fidel Castro seizing power, many Cuban cigar manufacturers left the country to begin cigar production in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. Many other countries produce cigars, but it is these three countries specifically that today compose the bulk of quality competition to Cuba's cigar industry.
During the 1990's, Habanos S.A., a new branch of Cubatabaco was formed. Habanos S.A. was designated the sole company controlling all aspects of the export of Cuban cigars. To protect against illegal copying, Habanos S.A. only exports to one company in each country. Currently, fifty percent of Habanos S.A. is owned by tobacco giant Altadis, a Franco-Spanish company. As a result, marketing practices and production methods have begun to change, likely in anticipation of the end of the trade embargo.
As a result of the aforementioned political events, Cuban cigars have since always carried the mystique of being the forbidden fruit. Still considered by many as offering the best smoking experience, Cuban cigars are widely sought but very difficult to locate in the U.S.A. To this date, it remains illegal for U.S. citizens to purchase Cuban-made cigars anywhere in the world. Though the smuggling of Cuban cigars into the U.S. does occur, prices are extremely high and the vast majority sold as authentic are, in fact, counterfeit.