While relaxing on the plane ride to the warm southern climes of the Caribbean, I reflect on the long cold winter so far and how I am looking forward to a sunny beach, lots of good food, cold beer and a nice long cigar to end each day.

Having taken this trip many times in the past I want to pass on some vital information and warnings to all the sun-worshipping travelers, beware of the “fake” Cuban Cigars sold on most of the Caribbean Islands.

Yes the worldwide cigar craze of the 1980’s and 90’s has floundered, but the demand for Cuban Cigars has not diminished. There is still a high demand for their famous cigars and because of this the demand is still out there for cheap imitations of the real thing. Many people will still be duped into believing that they are getting the deal of a lifetime and that the line (“my brother” works in the factory and gets all the cigars he wants), is true.

We all know that if it’s too good to be true, then it is not true. Let me tell you there is no way that you are getting a glass-top humidor, box of 25 Esplendidos cigars for $100.00. First off no reputable cigar dealer would sell a good cigar on a beach or in the street. Secondly a quality single Esplendidos sells for such a high price that most of us regular guys only dream of buying 1 at a time, not 25. Thirdly, that glass-top humidor, well no such thing was ever made by any cigar factory in Cuba. Also the little vial of water they point to, to make you believe it actually is a humidor, needs to be open to allow the humidity to get to the cigars, thus it is not a humidor. I know the staff of Habanos SA , the Cuban government department responsible for production of cigars, laugh themselves silly when they hear about people falling for “the old glass-top box” again.

Let me now try and give everyone a short “fake cigar 101” course, so those of you on your way down south won’t waste your money or endanger your life and health.

Once again, if the price is too good, then beware. No reputable dealer is going to give you or anyone else the “deal of the century”.

Any Cigar purchased on “the beach” or in the street or behind a shop is fake. Be forewarned you could be in personal danger too going someplace where the “tourists” don’t belong.

Now lets identify a good cigar from a fake cigar.

Don’t be “faked out” this year.

There are several easy ways to almost guarantee that you are purchasing a quality cigar. The easiest way to know is to buy only from a regulated tobacconist. These are the shops you will find throughout the world who display proper credentials in their windows and behind their counters. These papers state that they are an approved dealer for Habanos SA., as well as other cigar manufactures from other countries. They also routinely are a distinguishing looking establishment with fine furnishing and a large walk-in humidor. They will have qualified staff to help you, who will be most obliging and knowledgeable. Then take one look at the price of that big Esplendido, this will tell you that these are the real thing. No deal of the century here. But don’t despair, there are quality Cigars there for reasonable prices.

Now if you happen to have to shop somewhere other than a quality tobacconist then let me point out a few distinguishing characteristics of the fake cigar, the real cigar, and the box.

First pick up the box and have a close look at it. The wood of the box is a fine-grained, quality finished Spanish cedar, which is used because it has a quality that repels insects. This is the only wood used in real boxes. The lid should seal tightly around the base and the hinges should be flush and of a good quality, no rust or marks. On the bottom of the box are several marks, depending on the factory and manufacturer, but most should have a stamp which say “Hecto a Mano,” which means “man made”, a factory code stamp, usually 3 letters, ex: Partagas, to match the cigars in the box, as well as stickers of authenticity covering the side seam of the box from the top of the box to the base, from Habanos SA.

Next open the box and smell deeply of the Cigars, a good cigar should be aromatic, while a box of fakes smells a lot like cow manure. Yes, pretty easy to tell that difference.

Next look at the general layout of all the cigars. The row on top should be neat and regular. The cigar sizes should be uniform and they should all be the same length. As well, the color should be the same for every cigar. They should all fit in tightly and not roll around or be too squished, thus squared and misshapen.  The cigar bands should all line up in a row and look towards you, not slipping around on the cigar. Now gently remove one cigar and look at it closely. Note: if the person in the store helping you objects to this then take this as a sign that he has something to hide.  Gently smell the open end of the cigar and check for the aromatic smell again. Then look at the cigar from all angles. Is it straight, round, smooth, and the same color. Is the seam at the cap and along the length glued correctly, give the cigar a gentle squeeze, it should be firm but slightly resilient. If you are pleased with all these signs then look down at the second row and see that it too matches the Cigar you have taken out. Remember there is a wooden spacer inserted in the second row of almost all boxes to allow for the placement of 25 cigars. There should also be a sheet of Spanish cedar on top and between rows, it helps keep bugs out and is used to light your cigars. Many companies put ribbons and sheets of fine paper between, but this is not true in all cases.

Now if you are looking at a suspected bad box then you are likely not to see many markings on the box, top or bottom, the cigars will smell “bad”, they will not be straight, the bands will be out of alignment and the colors will not match. You may see spots on the cigars, water stains, as well as a white powder, mould, and the vein of the tobacco leaf may still be intact. The cigars may be soft when squeezed gently or as hard as a rock. Oh yeah, don’t forget that glass-top box thing. No no no…. Some, or all of these signs may be seen in a box of fake Cigars.

Don’t be “faked out” this year.

Once you are satisfied with the look and hopefully the quality of the cigars then you can start talking price. Remember you get what you pay for.

Just as a note about the fake, counterfeit cigars. Here are few tidbits of information you may want to think about.

Fake cigars are normally made in someone’s kitchen, on their dirty table and floors.
The tobacco they obtain is usually stolen or scrapped off the floor of the factory. Because it is hard to get enough tobacco they will then put in anything they can find, including banana leaves, toilet paper and grass. People have become very ill from smoking this garbage and have been hospitalized.  W5, a Canadian investigative TV program, showed a random fake cigar being opened and inside were all of the above items as well as human hair and a medium sized “live” bug.

The boxes are made from pieces of cheap wood or pieces of wood stolen from the factory.
The people selling fake cigars are not the most respectable people and any business dealings are fraught with danger. Word on the North American streets is that the “organized” criminal element is into counterfeit cigars and most other counterfeit products and they are not known for the friendly attitude toward anyone.

The revenue diverted as a result of the trade in counterfeit cigars is quite significant, in the multi-millions of dollars, and this affects the country of origin dramatically.  Many of the least paid people of the industry, mainly the local farmers and “cigar rollers”, are the ones who loose out on work because of a lack of demand for their product or skill.

A note of caution to everyone, any major manufacturer of hand made cigars is susceptible to being copied. As well, no matter where you travel around the world, if you enjoy a good cigar remember to check out the stock first. Counterfeit cigars have been seized from every corner of the world, so be cautious no matter where you go to buy your cigars.

Well my plane is landing and I can’t wait to feel that warming sun on my face, so I am going to close now. I hope that you take this little bit of knowledge with you on your trip abroad and that this information helps

So, my cigar-smoking friends.
Enjoy your trip, like I will, and savor the flavor of a fine Cigar for me.