Authentic Habanos? Trust, But Verify...
As a certified consumer tobacconist, I have committed myself to perpetual education, as there is always something new to learn in this ever evolving cigar industry. However, I have committed to not just my own education, but the education of other cigar enthusiasts. One of the issues that I've found requires education of monumentous proportions is the authenticity of Cuban cigars. It's almost daily that I see social media posts highlighting phony Habanos from un- or mis-educated cigar lovers who just don't know any better. Whether celebrating the score of the Habanos or the receipt of Habanos as gifts from family and friends, there are a plethora of posts that require a response from someone knowledgeable willing to impart some wisdom on the unwitting folks who truly believe they have authentic Cuban cigars in their possession. And despite my valiant efforts, I have been met with much criticism from others who, I figured, just don't wish to face the fact that they have been duped, run amok, led astray, bamboozled, etc.
La Casa del Habano is an internationally registered trademark and represents the global network
of retail cigar stores franchised by Habanos, S.A.
What many also need to understand is that while there are some absolutely horrific counterfeits out on the black market, there are actually some very good counterfeits - not just in quality of the cigar aesthetics, but the actual smoke. I once received some Cohiba Maduro No. 5s from a friend who swears by his "Habano connect" (who happens to be a very reputable retailer as well) - these Cohibas were most definitely fake, but I accepted the gifts and they happened to be some damn good smokes. I've had the conversation about the authenticity of the Habanos he purchases, as he spends thousands of dollars annually on some rather high quality counterfeits. He's one of the lucky ones, I guess - there have been tons of reports of fake Habanos that include short filler tobacco, rope, dirt, debris, and other materials that I find baffling to make their way into a supposedly handmade product.
On a beach in Cancun, Mexico, I thoroughly pissed off four different sets of guys on different occasions attempting to sell me 5-pack samplers of phony Cohibas (the famous wooden box with the glass lid) and another 5-pack variety sampler containing a Partagas, Montecristo, Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, and Bolivar. I ran the list of EVERYTHING wrong with their products, and saved a number of potentially gullible customers on the beach from wasting their money. If there's one thing I do know about Habanos (and pretty much most cigar manufacturers) - there is pride in the aesthetics of their presentation - boxes are generally pristine, cigars are all consistent in color and size, banding is perfectly even and aligned, bands are professionally printed, and all seals are intact. With the reputation of Habanos, and their illegality in the United States due to the trade embargo, it's understandable why these cigars are knocked off so heavily and sold on the black market. But...
"All Habanos are Cuban, but by no means all Cuban cigars are Habanos." - Habanos, S.A.
Habanos, S.A., the Cuban joint venture with the share capital owned 50%-50% by Cubatabaco (a Cuban Government company) and Altadis (a Spanish company owned by Imperial Tobacco Group PLC), was founded in 1994 and is responsible for the commercialization of all Habanos brands globally. All Habanos bear authenticating marks that and it's very important to purchase the cigars from Habanos, S.A. authorized retail establishments.
Below are the marks that distinguish Habanos that warrant verification to ensure quality and authenticity.
Marks of Distinction*
The Cuban Government Warranty Seal
First introduced in 1889, the warrnty seal has been modified over the years to include more security features. In 2009, the warranty seal was modified further with the inclusion of a hologram on the right side and an individual bar code on the left (on the same side of the coat of arms on the seal) that tracks every box of Habanos from production to each exclusive, authorized distributor (La Casa del Habano) across the globe.
The bar code also allows you to confirm a box of Habanos' authenticity via Habanos, S.A. verification website at http://verificacion.habanos.com.
On an authentic Habanos box, the seal is always placed on the left side of the box, leaving 3-6 mm from the edge and is bent over the center of the coat of arms whenever possible.
Denomination of Origin
All authentic boxes carry the Habanos seal as a mark of the cigars’ denomination of origin, and absolutely no box of Habanos is shipped from Cuba without it.
Local Importers’ Stamps
Individual countries or regions have their own certifying marks as an extra, local defense against counterfeiting. and are the responsibility of the local exclusive distributors. The bottoms of all Habano boxes are hot-stamped with the words "Hecho en Cuba" and "Totalmente a Mano" (Totally by Hand). Another ink stamp is an informative code indicating which factory manufactured the cigars, as well as the month and year they were boxed. For those who do not understand or read Spanish, below are the abbreviations for the months that may appear in the stamps:
ENE (Enero) January
FEB (Febrero) Frebruary
MAR (Marzo) March
ABR (Abril) April
MAY (Mayo) May
JUN (Junio) June
JUL (Julio) July
AGO (Agosto) August
SEP (Septiembre) September
OCT (Octubre) October
NOV (Noviembre) November
DIC (Diciembre) December
The practice of counterfeit cigar manufacturing and sales will never cease, and will continue to be a stain on the cigar industry. However, I vow to continue my diligence to educate our brothers & sisters of the leaf to ensure that we as enthusiasts do not perpetuate the patronage of these black marketers, and honor the traditions and labor that has been invested in bringing us the highest quality of Cuban cigars as it has been long-intended.
It's OK to trust, but please verify...
*Source: Habanos Academy - The World of the Habano. Available at: www.habanos.com/en/verificacion-de-autenticidad/. Accessed December 28, 2015.