How to identify fake Cuban cigars?
When it comes to life's most intrinsic luxuries, a genuine Cuban cigar would be at the top of the list of most cigar aficionados. Unfortunately, there is such demand for premium-brand cigars, which unfortunately production does not reach the world market of the product.
Due to this, more and more false Cuban cigars are being opened in the market, both in the United States and in Europe. Due to modern technology, it has become a commonplace, but very easy to convert into low quality Honduran cigars, in a Cohiba Splendid brand only printed labels.
Unfortunately, counterfeiting is also due to consumer ignorance, as many do not know enough about Cuban cigars to detect a fake one. This helps counterfeiters who produce cigars less than the standard, which allows them to earn money from uninformed consumers, which allows the cigar forging industry to grow.
Cuban cigar education is key.
Although many articles have been written about Cuban cigars and how to detect a counterfeit of the real deal, they often lack enough detail to be of real utility to the average pure amateur. For that reason alone, I have produced this piece to help educate, as well as inform, consumers about how they can quickly identify suspicious cigars and separate the inferior quality from the actual treatment.
A proper Cuban cigar
With more than 20 years of experience in Cuba alone, I have both the knowledge and attention to detail that will help you to determine not only false havanas but also in an effective way.
Where to start-stamps, labels and cigar boxes.
Let's start from the beginning. By following these steps every time you buy cigars, you give yourself every opportunity to recognize counterfeits and stay away from them!
1. Carefully Examine the cigar box
Start with a thorough check of the warranty seal. This is perhaps one of the easiest things you can do, especially since every box of Cuban cigars has this tax stamp from 1912 to ensure the authenticity of enclosed cigars.
Old Seal New Seal
The seal itself was initially found in three difference sizes -‐ Large (2 1/2" wide), Small (1 1/4" wide), and Miniature (13/16" wide) and came printed in green and white (as above). Due to counterfeiting, the seal was updated after 2000. Now the seal includes a hidden UV watermark, far denser colors, fine miniature printing, as well as a serial number. The seal is the first thing you should check, but counterfeiters have even managed to produce excellent copies in recent years.
Once you have checked the seal itself, take note of where it is applied to the box. For dress boxes, the seal will be applied to the front left edge. It will cover the top to bottom of the box with a fold over the top edge and falling in the area of the oval coat of arms. For cabinets, the seal will only be placed on the upper right corner and over the edge of the sliding lid. Finally, for packs, the miniature seal will be used. It will normally be placed over the top flat of the box itself. For more information on seals, as well as excellent high definition pictures of how the seal should look, read “New Cuban Warranty Seal: The Inside and Invisible Scoop” by the Cigar Counsel.
The paper used to construct the seal has a number of special and security features that protect the authenticity of the cigars inside the box.
· A non-‐transferred label. The seal is immediately invalidated if it has been tampered with or if someone has purposely tried to remove it.
· The synthetic paper is of a very high quality and virtually tamper free.
· It is extremely difficult to scan and photocopy the new seals.
· The holographic band helps to ensure authenticity and is difficult to duplicate by counterfeiters. Look for bicolor text in the hologram, especially in the 3d effects to ensure authenticity.
· Microdot technology. Seals will have a microdot which is only visible through a laser scanner.
Each seal will also have a unique bar code. All the information for that particular box of cigars is linked to the bar code and stored in a database which helps with identification throughout the world. Other information stored includes addresses for shipping and invoice details.
3. The old and the new
Of course there will be a time frame where both the old seal and the new seal are to be found in the cigar market. How long it will take to phase out the older seal is anyone’s guess.
The length of time in which the two seals will coexist is not so easy to foresee because it depends on the stocks and the rotation of the different products.
Below are pictures of the seal which has been placed on a box of cigars in the correct way.
4. Check the Habanos chevron
The next thing to check is the Habanos chevron. This is found on the upper right corner of cigar dress boxes and the top lower left corner of cigar cabinets.
This label has a distinct size – between 13/16” wide and has been in use since 1994. Each label will also have a silhouette (black) of a tobacco leaf on the left with the word “Habanos” on the right. The word itself has two distinct colors: red (lettering) and yellow/orange (lettering outlines) while two gold lines are found at the top and bottom of the label. These thin lines are located between the black lines.
5. Look for hallmarks/logos
Hallmarks should be found on each box of cigars. These hallmarks/logos are burned into the boxes themselves. If they are stamped, you are dealing with a counterfeit product. A simple test is to run your finger over them and feel if they make an indentation in the box itself.
The words “Habanos s.a” will appear on these stamps. This is the name of the company exporting cigars from Cuba since 1994. If the cigars are older than this, look for the Cubatobaco logo.
The stamp should also have “HECH EN CUBA” enclosed in a straight lined oval while the words "Totalmente a mano" in a script font is the third and final hallmark. This branding – added in 1989 – means the cigars were handmade and translates to “totally by hand.”
Fifth, Depending on where the box was distributed will determine some other common box labels and stamps that should be present. These seals and stamps are constantly changing and it is best to speak with a knowledgeable importer of Habanas in each individual country for the current information.
Sixth, also of some help are the various "health warning stickers" that some countries apply to their cigar boxes. Once again, these laws and their stickers vary, however knowing this info can prove to be helpful.
Seventh, Familiarize yourself with the different types of packaging in which Cuban cigars are enclosed. Various brands and sizes are packaged in certain styles of boxes including: Dress boxes, polished boxes, varnished and unvarnished cabinets, semi boite natural boxes, sliding lid boxes (SLBs - commonly referred to as cabinets), transit paks, and small pak Petacas. Sadly, it is impossible for me to generate a complete list of which cigars come in what packaging or even suggest a quality reference on this topic. Currently, my best advice is that you spend as much time as possible in a reputable tobacconist's humidor examining the packaging he has on his shelves.
Eighth, The box should show little or no signs of wear and tear. Overly faded, knicked, and scratched boxes should be regarded as suspect since many counterfeiters utilize legit recycled boxes to help sell their inferior product.
Ninth, Here are some various boxes for you to examine more closely:
Seventh, The foot of each cigar should be cut cleanly and evenly with no chipping.
Eighth, inspect the cape (cap) of each cigar. Havana parejos (straight sided cigars) have a finely finished cap that is commonly referred to as the "triple cap." You can actually see three fine lines from the flagging of the cap as it was wrapped around the head of the cigar. The cap on figurados are finished with a "switch back" flag - the wrapper is rolled the to the very tip of the head and trimmed to a thin strip which is then wound back in the same direction down the cigar.
ADDITIONAL HELPFUL TIPS
First, Learn which cigars each Cuban factory manufactures and all of the correct names and sizes within their given lines. An excellent resource for this information is the Perelman's Pocket Cyclopedia of Havana Cigars (ISBN 0-9649258-6-9). This is a must have resource for any Cuban cigar consumer. Another reputable source is www.cubancigarwebsite.com
Second, Learn the true market value of Cuban cigars - you will find that many counterfeiters sell them at far too low a cost to ever be legit. The maximum discount below list prices ever extended on Cuban cigars is 25% and this is very rare. Typically such discounts are afforded to the very best customers at the close of season. There is no such thing as a "bargain" when it comes to Cuban cigars. Also be carefull if it's online and also includes FREE shipping.
Third, Do not buy Havanas from anyone that solicits you. There is a shortage of fine Habanas in the world market, they simply sell themselves and do not need to be pushed.
Fourth, avoid buying Cuban cigars from unknown parties, particularly on some internet sites.
ifth, Never buy any cigars that are billed as a "special edition," "anniversary issue," or some other specialty. Many counterfeiters will use this as a lead-on to explain away why the box is different or the cigar is a unique size. True special issue Haines are exceedingly rare and are distributed between reputable dealers and serious collectors only, and for very large dollar amounts, literally thousands and sometimes tens of thousands per unit.
Sixth, Be wary of any store that will not sell you an entire box or allow you to have a box just emptied with your purchase. Many less than reputable dealers will restock a legit box with fake cigars over and over again. This is a common practice among small market type stores and street side shops particularly in tourist towns.
Seventh, Be aware that some cigars are regularly counterfeited because they are more recognizable by the potential marks. For example, Cohibas Esplendidos, Romeo and Julieta Churchills, Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas, and Montecristo No. 2 are commonly counterfeited because of their legendary status and their ability to fetch big money. Lesser know cigars such as the Saint Luis Rey Serie A, Rafael Gonzalez Lonsdale, and the Quai D'Orsay Churchill are rarely counterfeited because many cigar smokers would never recognize them as Havanas making them difficult for counterfeiters to unload.
Eighth, it is commonly estimated that more than 95% of cigars in the United States are reputed to be Cubans are actually fakes. In my experience this is probably close to accuracy, since I see false after false. Also, keep in mind that there are fake Cuban cigars more than the average circulating in Florida, New York and California.
Ninth, always avoid buying cigars from anyone with a story that says: "I have a Cuban friend who goes from Miami to Havana buys and buys cigars in Cuba, then sells them here for only $ 275 a box." of lame stories are typical of the coverage these counterfeiters use. Believe me, each counterfeiter is Cuban, is married to a Cuban, has a cousin who is Cuban, etc..