Puffed with pride: Cuba’s legendary hand-rolled cigars post record sales in 2021

By Dave Sherwood

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s state cigar monopoly, Habanos S.A., said on Wednesday it logged record sales of its famous hand-rolled smokes in 2021, rebounding strongly after two years of pandemic-induced sluggishness.

Curbs on travel in 2020 due to the coronavirus had dealt a serious blow to demand from countries reliant on tourism as well as sales at key duty-free shops in airports around the world, denting revenue.

But Habanos reported revenue jumped 15% over the previous year, according to a statement on its website, as vaccination programs began to take effect and some global travel resumed.

Cuba’s hand-rolled cigars, which include brands such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Partagas, are considered by many the best in the world.

The good news on cigar sales, one of the communist-run country’s top exports, is a rare bright spot for the Cuban economy, which has been hammered by the pandemic and tightened U.S. sanctions.

Habanos said in its statement it would also make uniform prices across markets for its coveted high-end cigars, using Hong Kong as a benchmark for setting the price of both its exclusive Cohiba and Trinidad brand cigars.

Cigar Aficionado, a top cigar industry publication, predicted the larger Cohibas will soon exceed a price tag of $100 per cigar on the announcement, noting that the Hong Kong market is among the priciest globally.

“Bigger Cohibas will sell for $100 each … and boxes will no longer be priced in the hundreds of dollars, but in the thousands,” the publication said in a story on its website on Tuesday.

Habanos usually holds a festival early in the year for tobacco aficionados and retailers featuring tours of Cuba’s historic plantations and factories as well as evening social events that provide opportunities to puff on Cuban smokes. This year, however, the party was once again called off.

The Cuban cigar maker said Spain, China, Germany, France and Switzerland are the top markets for Cuban cigars.

The Caribbean island cannot sell its signature export to the biggest market worldwide for cigars, the United States, due to the decades-old U.S. trade embargo.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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