Cuban cigars are considered by most to be high-end, luxury items and for good reason. They contain Cuban tobacco which is the finest in the world and are rolled by the world’s most skilled torcedores (cigar rollers). So naturally, like with other luxury items (Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton handbags), they are often counterfeited! For this reason a large number of Cuban cigar retailers on the internet sell fake Cuban cigars. It’s easy to fall victim to one of these illegitimate websites, especially if you don’t have much experience with Cuban cigars. Even experienced Cuban smokers can have a difficult time.
Often you can tell a fake Cuban from a real one by scrutinizing the cigar band or the box. Many are poorly manufactured and barely resemble the original. However, too much importance is placed on having the perfect band or box. The fact is REAL Cuban cigars will sometimes have irregularities in the bands or boxes. Just recently we received two boxes of Partagas Series D 4’s (a beautiful full bodied robusto if you’ve never tried one) from Havana House, the only registered importer and distributor of Habanos SA Cuban Cigars in Canada. The cedar boxes that house the D 4’s are heat stamped with the Partagas logo creating an indentation in the box. Sure enough I could run my finger nail all the way around the elegant Partagas symbol but this was only true for ONE of the boxes. On the other box, it felt like the Partagas symbol was simply stamped on and the latch is coming off! An amateur cigar sleuth would tell you that the second box is a fake, but the fact is both boxes have the same factory code, same box date and both came in the same order from Havana House! We’ve opened a box of Montecristo No. 2’s to find a single cigar in the very middle of the row placed upside down! I’ve seen a box of Vegas Robaina Unicos where the heat stamp is completely off centre and cut off. In the end, what’s most important to Cuba is the quality and construction of each hand rolled Cuban cigar and not about the packaging. After all, it’s the cigar we smoke and not the band.
So what now? We’ve determined that inconsistent packaging is not always a sure sign of a fake Cuban cigar and most of us aren’t experienced enough to tell from the taste or smell (though I hear some of the knock offs taste absolutely vile). How do we avoid the devastation and heartbreak of purchasing a box of fake Cubans? One rule to keep in mind is “know your dealer”! It’s a bad idea to buy cigars from a website you don’t trust just like it’s a bad idea to buy a box of Cohiba Esplendidos from some guy on the beach in Mexico.
Here are some things to look for when purchasing cigars online.
One of the first things we usually notice is the price they are offering. It feels great to find an amazing deal but the old adage, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” rings especially true when buying Cubans online. Many fraudulent dealers will offer unbelievably low prices. Some even have the gall to offer better prices than the Habanos stores in Cuba! When you purchase a Cuban cigar, you are acquiring a finely, handcrafted item constructed with tobacco grown and harvested with hundreds of years of experience, so expect to pay a premium.
The second thing is something often overlooked. It is very important that the website have clearly displayed contact information including a physical address. There should be a customer service phone number that is easy to reach and responds to you promptly. A fraudulent dealer will try their best to avoid any contact from the customer, especially after a transaction.
The last thing is to make sure the online retailer you are dealing with is authorized by Habanos SA. They are the governing company that oversees all Cuban tobacco production and distribution. To sell Cuban cigars anywhere in the world, you must go through Habanos SA. All countries will have a company that is the exclusive importer and distributor of Habanos SA products. In Canada, it is Havana House. All Canadian Cuban cigar merchants of must get their cigars from Havana House.
These are a few of the basic things to look for when buying Cuban cigars online but it is not an exact science. Ask a lot of questions and proceed with caution. Happy smoking and may all your Cubans be authentic.