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Tobacco traveller--collection 2009--Cuba.

THE SPREAD of smoking bans, the economic crisis and the flattening of Cuba's tobacco crops in August and September 2008 by hurricanes Ike and Gustav have taken their toll on sales of Cuban cigars.

Demand worldwide was expected to be down 15% in 2009, according to a report from the Cuban National Statistics Office (ONE) published in October 2009. In 2008, Cuba sold around US$390 million (Euro 260.4 million) worth of cigars but demand dropped by 3% from 2007, said the report.

Cuban cigar brands Cohiba, Montecristo, Trinidad and Partagas (NOTE--SPELLING IS CORRECT) dominate the world's cigar premium market with 70% of sales, according to ONE.

Cigar manufacturer Habanos produces 27 premium brands in 220 different sizes, including the flagship brand Cohiba. In 2009, Habanos launched its first ever Gran Reserva, the Cohiba Siglo VI Gran Reserva, producing only 5,000 boxes worldwide. Limited editions in 2009 have included the outstanding H.Upmann Magnum 48, Romeo y Julieta Duke, and Bolivar Petit Belicosos (NOTE--SPELLINGS ARE CORRECT).

Speaking at the X1 Festival del Habano in February 2009, Habanos commercial vice president Manual Garcia said Montecristo was the company's best-selling brand, with 25% global market share in value terms (20% in unit sales. Cohiba is second with 23% in terms of value, Romeo y Julieta 13% and Partagas 11.5%.

Habanos is a joint venture between Cuba's communist government and Madrid-based Altadis SA. In 2008, Altadis was acquired by Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group PLC for US$16 billion (Euro 10.7 billion). Production in the premium cigar factories is under the direct control of Cuba's Union of Tobacco Enterprises and is completely separate from the Altadis-Habanos joint venture.

The state plays the primary role in the economy, controlling practically all foreign trade. Raul Castro's Communist government is seeking to boost the state coffers by formalising previously informal or illegal cigar market flows in a bid to obtain tighter state control over the economy. In 2008, Internacional Cubana de Tabaco SA launched new vitolas of the Belinda and Troya brands (NOTE--SPELLING IS CORRECT). Meanwhile, in 2009, joint venture Brascuba SA launched a brand of cigarettes under the brand H.Upmann Selecto. Brascuba also produces the brands H.Upmann, Hollywood, Populares, Pall Mall, Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo, which are exported to more than 20 countries.

In Cuba, 35.9% of adults smoke, breaking down to 43.4% of males and 28.3% of females, according to the latest statistics (for 2005) from the recently published World Health Organisation World Health Statistics 2009. (In 2001, 37% of adults smoked in Cuba (World Development Indicator Database, 2001). Meanwhile, 10.9% of males aged 13-15 smoked in 2005, dropping to 9.5% of females in this group (World Health Statistics 2009). Tobacco is not taxed in Cuba--much of it is heavily subsidised and Cuban cigarettes are among the cheapest in the world. Those born before 1955 are rationed three packets of cheap cigarettes per month at the equivalent to US$0.07 (Euro 0.05) each. Even non-subsidised cigarettes are extremely cheap--costing US$0.27 (Euro 0.18) for the same ones included in the ration, on which the excise is 22%. Packs of Populares brand of expert quality are sold at approximately US$0.60 (Euro 0.40). The most expensive, Romeo y Julieta, go for roughly US$1.50 (Euro 1) per pack. Brascuba's Popular is the most popular brand of cigarettes in Cuba although for many Cubans, Brascuba's brands which also include Hollywood, Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Monterrey and Vega, are deemed too expensive.

Cuban government scientists recently developed a new strain of tobacco IT-2004, with lower tar and nicotine content. It will be used to produce cigarettes for the domestic market said the state-run Tobacco Research Institute.

LEAF PRODUCTION

THE PREMIUM tobacco growing area is the Vuelta Abajo region (NOTE--SPELLING IS CORRECT), where Habanos sources most of its tobacco, using the best for Cohiba. The recession and 2008 storms caused a 2009 reduction to tobacco-cropped land by almost 30%, dropping the harvest forecast by 16%, according to ONE. The amount of land used for tobacco was slashed from 28,200 hectares to 19,800 hectares. On the other hand, average yield was expected to rise from 0.95 tonnes to 1.10 tonnes per hectare this year, the report said. As much as 2 million pounds of tobacco, or about 5% of Cuba's annual production, were destroyed by the 2008 hurricanes, affecting some 7,000 tobacco-curing houses. But state tobacco organisation TABACUBA's vice president Osvaldo Encarnacion (NOTE--SPELLING IS CORRECT), said farmers would meet their export obligations and domestic market production would not be reduced.

ONE said that 22,500 tonnes were expected this season, down from last year's harvest of 25,300 tonnes and 16% less than the projected 26,800 tonnes.

Tobacco varieties grown in Cuba include the established disease-resistant Habanensis; improved seed variety Criollo; and sub-variety Corojo for wrappers. In 1992, Habana 2000 (a cross between Corojo and a non commercial variety of Cuban dark tobacco, Habana 2.1.1) was introduced, followed by Criollo 98 in 1998 (a cross between Havana 92 and Habana P.R.). In 2006 more resistant hybrids were developed--Habano 2006 (from Habana 2000 & Criollo 1998).
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Author:Hall, Liz
Publication:International News Services.com
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
Words:873
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