Last updated on September 8th, 2017 at 05:24 pm
Cuba is known as the world leader in high-quality tobacco. Cuban cigars are rolled from these tobacco leaves and the filler, binder, and wrapper come from various locations on the island. The Cuban government controls all cigar production within the country. Cuban cigar rollers are called torcedores and are thought to be the most skilled in the world, capturing high respect within Cuban society.
When Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492, he came across tobacco. One year later, European explorers took it back to their land. Spain was the first European country to embrace smoking, which soon became popular in Turkey, Russia, Japan, and Persia. Tobacco plantations arose in eastern Cuba during the 18th century and spread westward. Natives viewed the tobacco, or cohiba, as a miraculous medicine, using it in ceremonies.
A royal monopoly on tobacco was declared in 1717 by King Felipe V of Spain. It was not until 1817 that Royal Decree countermanded the monopoly. This permitted free trade to resume between Cuba and the rest of the world through Spanish ports. During the 19th century, thousands of immigrants from the Canary Islands worked in the tobacco industry.
In 1962, a U.S. trade embargo was instituted on Cuba by President John F. Kennedy, as sanction for the communist government of Fidel Castro. This embargo prevented U.S. residents from purchasing Cuban cigars legally on the market. It is still illegal for residents of the U.S. to buy or import a Cuban cigar no matter where the item is in the world.
For years, tobacco was the second largest Cuban export after sugar. Pinar del Rio province is the current site of most production. Cubatabaco and Habanos SA are the two manufacturers and exporters of Cuban machine and handmade cigars. These products carry a high status and are often imitated, with a reported 95 percent of Cuban cigars sold in the U.S. being counterfeit.