They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ever since cigars became associated with luxury, class and sophistication there have been people trying to capitalize on that luxury by selling counterfeit versions of the real thing.
The market for counterfeit cigars, Cuban or not, is growing and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.
In this article we will explore the history and evolution of counterfeit cigars, from their early origins to the modern-day techniques used to create convincing fakes, and how you can spot a counterfeit cigar and avoid being scammed.
What is a Counterfeit Cigar?
First, we must define what a counterfeit cigar is.
Counterfeit cigars are imitations of genuine cigars produced by legitimate brands. These fake cigars are made with low-grade tobacco that is sourced from downgraded production areas or countries that have nothing to do with the original growing regions.
In addition, the rolling techniques used in the production of counterfeit cigars are different from those used by reputable brands, resulting in a product of inferior quality and taste.
Counterfeit cigars may look similar to the real thing, but the quality and taste are vastly different. Some counterfeiters add glue to the filler to mimic the physical consistency of genuine cigars, which can be extremely dangerous to consumer health.
This tobacco is often stolen from the factories and then enters the counterfeiting networks in the producing countries or third countries via smuggling networks.
Unfortunately, the methods of counterfeiters have become increasingly sophisticated, as you will learn below.
Why Are There Fake Cigars on the Market?
It's also worth noting that the cigar industry is very lucrative, with premium cigars often selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars per box. This makes them an attractive target for counterfeiters looking to make a quick profit. Counterfeiters can produce fake cigars at a fraction of the cost of authentic cigars and sell them at similar prices to unsuspecting consumers.
In addition, the lack of regulation of the cigar industry also contributes to the problem of counterfeit cigars. Unlike other luxury goods such as wine or spirits, cigars are not subject to the same level of scrutiny and regulation.
This lack of oversight makes it easier for counterfeiters to create convincing fakes and sell them to consumers who do not know the difference between real and fake cigars.
Counterfeit cigars can also be sold in countries with high taxes on tobacco products, making them more affordable for consumers who cannot afford authentic cigars. In some cases, counterfeiters even sell their fakes in legitimate cigar shops or online retailers, further deceiving consumers into thinking they are buying authentic products.
In addition, the rise of e-commerce and online marketplaces has made it easier for counterfeiters to sell their fakes to consumers around the world. These online platforms provide a veil of anonymity for counterfeiters, making it more difficult for authorities to track them down and shut down their operations.
Overall, the combination of high demand, lack of regulation, and high profit potential has made the manufacture and sale of fake cigars a profitable business for counterfeiters.
How We Got Here:
In the early days of the cigar industry, there were few regulations or standards for the quality of cigars. This made it easy for counterfeiters to pass off inferior or low-quality cigars as premium cigars, since there was no way for consumers to tell the difference.
It was also difficult for cigar manufacturers to protect their brands from counterfeiters because there were no laws or regulations that would have prevented other companies from making cigars that looked similar to their own.
One of the most famous examples of this was the H. Upmann brand. H. Upmann was founded in Havana, Cuba, in 1844 and quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality cigars. However, as the brand's popularity grew, so did the number of imitations. Cigar manufacturers in other countries would create cigars that looked similar to H. Upmann cigars and used similar packaging and branding to fool consumers into thinking they were buying the real thing.
To combat this problem, the H. Upmann company began taking steps to protect their brand. They introduced unique packaging and branding for their cigars that made it easier for consumers to recognize genuine H. Upmanns.
They also began working with governments and law enforcement agencies to crack down on counterfeiters and enact laws and regulations to protect their brand from imitations.
Other cigar makers faced similar problems, particularly those in Cuba, the center of the cigar industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Cuban cigars became increasingly popular around the world, counterfeiters began to create knockoffs that were nearly identical to the real thing.
They used similar packaging and branding, and often tried to mimic the taste and aroma of Cuban cigars by using inferior tobacco or adding chemicals and flavorings to the tobacco.
Another famous example of cigar counterfeiting vs brand protection is the Cohiba brand. Cohiba was originally created in Cuba in the 1960s as a private brand for Fidel Castro and other high-ranking Communist Party officials.
The brand was not made available to the public until the 1980s, but by that time counterfeit Cohibas were already being produced and sold on the black market. It wasn't just Cohibas. This was a wide scale problem that affected almost every Cuban cigar brand.
Cuba enacted a number of laws and regulations to protect the country's cigar brands from counterfeiting. Leading these efforts was Habanos S.A., the state-owned company responsible for the commercialization of Cuban cigars worldwide.
One of the most important measures Cuba took to protect its cigar brands was the introduction of the "Denomination of Origin" system. This system recognizes the unique characteristics of Cuban cigars, such as the specific tobacco varieties and production methods, and ensured that only cigars made in Cuba could legally use the Cuban cigar brands.
The system also imposed strict quality control measures for Cuban cigars to ensure that they meet the highest quality standards.
Cuba also began working closely with international organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to enforce its intellectual property rights and combat counterfeiting. WIPO provided training and technical assistance to Cuban officials on issues related to intellectual property rights and helped coordinate efforts to combat counterfeiting at the international level.
In addition, Cuban officials begun working closely with customs officials in other countries to seize and destroy counterfeit Cuban cigars. In some cases, Cuba has even taken legal action against individuals and companies involved in the production and sale of fake Cuban cigars.
In 2015, the Cuban government and law enforcement agencies in several countries conducted a large-scale operation to seize counterfeit Cuban cigars. The operation resulted in the seizure of over 100,000 fake cigars and the arrest of several individuals involved in the production and sale of counterfeit cigars.
In 2018, Cuba worked with Italian law enforcement to seize over 4,000 boxes of fake Cuban cigars in Naples. The seizure was part of a larger operation targeting the production and sale of counterfeit luxury goods in Italy.
Despite these efforts, the counterfeit cigar problem persisted. As the cigar industry continued to grow and evolve, the techniques used by counterfeiters also changed.
The Evolution of Counterfeit Techniques
As cigar manufacturers added more and more security features to their products, counterfeiters became more adept at replicating these features.
One of the most common methods used by counterfeiters is to imitate the packaging and branding of premium cigar brands. They use high-quality materials and printing techniques to create packaging that looks very similar to the real cigars.
In some cases, they even use the same packaging materials as the authentic cigars, making it difficult for consumers to tell the difference.
Another technique used by counterfeiters is to blend inferior tobacco with chemicals and flavorings to mimic the taste and aroma of premium cigars. This can create cigars that look and smell like the real thing, but do not taste the same.
Some counterfeiters also use real tobacco from premium cigar brands in their fakes, which they may acquire through theft or purchase on the black market.
The Internet and e-commerce have also made it easier for counterfeiters to sell their products to consumers around the world.
They can create convincing websites and social media accounts to promote their products, and they can use online marketplaces to sell their counterfeits to unsuspecting consumers.
In addition, some counterfeiters may even set up physical storefronts to sell their products, making it even more difficult for consumers to distinguish real from fake cigars.
How To Avoid Buying Fake Cigars
No matter where you are in the world, the best advice you can follow is this: buy your cigars only from an official and authorized dealer of the brands.
This is the best way to protect yourself from scam of any kind. Most premium cigar brands maintain a list of their exclusive distributors and dealers on their website.
If the price is too tempting, especially for premium or ultra-premium products, proceed with caution. Do not fall for the tempting bargains on the Internet.
In addition to buying from official retailers, there are a few other tips to avoid buying counterfeit cigars:
Do your research: Before making any purchase, do some research on the brand and type of cigar you are interested in. Read reviews and check online forums to see what other cigar lovers have to say about the product. This will help you identify any red flags or warning signs that the cigars are fakes.
Check the packaging: Authentic cigars usually come in a well-made box with the brand name and logo clearly visible. Look for signs of tampering or damage to the packaging, such as broken seals, missing labels or mismatched colors.
Inspect the cigars: When you receive your cigars, inspect them carefully. Check the color, texture and size of the cigars to make sure they match the characteristics of the authentic brand. Be wary of cigars that feel too soft or have an unusual odor.
Ask for authentication: If you are still not sure if the cigars are authentic, ask the dealer for a proof of authentication. Most authorized dealers will be able to provide you with a certificate of authenticity or other documentation that proves the cigars are genuine.