The most effective way to prevent purchasing counterfeit Cuban cigars is by obtaining them from a recognized and trustworthy vendor. Nonetheless, if you choose to buy from another source, you may employ this advice as a general reference.

What Is a Fake Cigar?

A forgery is something created to appear different from its true identity, with the intention of deceitfully or fraudulently passing it off as authentic. There exists a spectrum of fakes, ranging from those produced by large organized groups to individual counterfeiters.

Certain cigars, such as special factory productions, factory trials, pre-production cigars, previously unrecorded cigars or releases, and others, may be authentic but mistakenly identified as fakes.

The Authorized Distribution Network

Habanos S.A. issues licenses to import and distribute their cigars to specific territories. Regional License Holders operate their own local distribution centers, which supply sub-distributors and prominent retailers.

Sub-distributors may sell cigars both at retail and wholesale levels to smaller retailers such as tobacconists, bars, clubs, and liquor outlets.

Retailers have the option to purchase cigars from distributors, sub-distributors, parallel importers, parallel import themselves, or utilize a combination of all available sources.

The exclusive authorized distributor of Cuban cigars in the UK is Hunters & Frankau. They have been the sole distributor of Habanos S.A. products in the UK since the 1790s and operate the official importer and distributor of Cuban cigars.

EMS is a term that has been referred to in Cuba for over a century to identify the quality of cigars designated for the British market.

Suppliers In The Paralel Market

Parallel suppliers are legitimate entities that operate outside their authorized region.

To increase their sales volume, sub-distributors may sell products on the grey market. Transactions, communications, and payments are typically routed through third-party companies to obscure the source of the cigars and the distributor or sub-distributor who sold them.

Numerous retailers acquire cigars from both authorized distributors and parallel suppliers. Parallel importing, while unauthorised, is not inherently problematic. Its dependability relies on the knowledge and ethical standards of the parties involved. Although many parallel importers are trustworthy, some are not.

Buying from parallel suppliers is generally less expensive for retailers. Nonetheless, there are two disadvantages: the possibility of encountering counterfeit cigars, and no opportunity for wholesale-level returns or quality control.

The Black Market

The Black Market Black Marketeers are professional criminal operations, generally originating from Central America, Cuba and Asia. These operations involve massive quantities of fake cigars.

They either sell into the grey market (passing themselves off as legitimate parallel suppliers) or they sell direct to the final point-of-sale sellers: websites, brick and mortar stores, bars, clubs, street touts, cruise lines, vacation destinations, etc.

The Grey Market

The Grey Market is the retail level sellers who have purchased stock from Parallel Market Suppliers.

Some world-renowned retailers have been caught selling fakes (notably Limited Editions). When pressed they admitted that they purchased the cigars outside of the licensed distribution channel.

Since 2010, all Cuban Cigar boxes have had an individual barcode serial number, which can be used to trace the box back to the distributor it was originally supplied to. This is a mechanism for Habanos S.A. to monitor the paths that boxes enter the grey market. Some Grey Market venders remove this barcode so that the product cannot be traced back to the distributor.

Buyers should always use caution with buying from an unknown grey market dealer, however the Grey Market in itself is not an indication of fakes.

Which Cuban Cigars are Counterfeited?

All cigars can and are being faked and can be categorised as follows:

Fake cigars in fake packaging (total fakes)
Fake cigars in genuine packaging (replacement fakes)
Genuine cigars with fake bands in genuine or fake packaging (upgrade fakes)

Fake Cigars can be non-Cuban cigars or cheap local Cuban cigars (handmade but normally with short-filler tobacco scraps). They may or may not be to the correct size, and are sometimes sold with a totally bogus cigar or release name.

Fake or upgraded cigars can also be genuine Cuban cigars with stolen or fake bands purporting to be an exclusive valuable cigar.

Fake Packaging includes genuine boxes (either stolen in large numbers or a reused genuine box), counterfeits of genuine boxes, or totally bogus boxes (e.g. the “classic” glass top boxed Cohiba).

Bands are either stolen genuine or forged/fake bands (commercially available on the web), or to a lesser extent, reused genuine bands.

For example, consider a standard production Montecristo No.4. Replace the standard band with a forged “Compay” band and it becomes the 2002 Compay 95 Aniversario cigar. Alternatively add a supplementary “Reserva” band and it becomes a 2007 Reserva cigar. Put these cigars into a “reused” genuine box of the correct type and it would be difficult for anyone to dispute that they were genuine cigars.

Who Fakes Cigars

Cigar fakers range from full-time high volume Black Market/criminal organisations; to small time backstreet rollers; down to one-off individuals.

Some well organised professional fake manufactures operate out of China. These producers use professional printers to create high-quality copies of genuine packaging. The cigars are well constructed by professional rollers. These cigars are available on legitimate looking websites, and sometimes infiltrate supply lines into brick-and-mortar stores.

In South and Central America, fake Cubans are readily available, especially at holiday destinations popular with residents of the United States. These normally use low-quality printing, often with poorly applied foils, and sometimes bizarre packaging mistakes. They would appear to be a “backyard” level of operation.

In Cuba, all kinds of fakes are available. Refilling of legitimate boxes is common; with cigars ranging from low quality home rolls to “genuine” cigars that have been stolen from the factories. Any tourist walking a few blocks in Havana will undoubtedly be offered fake cigars multiple times.

These examples are just a tiny section of the wide variety of fake Cuban cigars available around the world.

Where Are Fake Cigars Sold?

Black market cigars are either knowingly or inadvertently sold by the Grey Market retailer system, or directly by unscrupulous end-user sellers. This usually involves large volumes.

Smaller volumes tend to be the “home” rollers, and one-off sales tend to be replacement or upgrading scams.

Other sources are the unknowing travellers who bring back a few boxes from overseas to “defray their expenses”.

All Cuban cigars sold in the USA should be treated with the highest suspicion. There has been no legal avenue for selling these cigars for many decades, so anybody doing so is committing a criminal act. Even if the vendor stands by their stock and believes it to be genuine, every link in their supply chain must be considered suspicious.

At retail level cigars are sold:

Online (with or without a brick-and-mortar store).
Duty Free and Travel Retail outlets.
Local brick-and-mortar stores.
Pubs, Clubs, Cigar Kiosks, etc.
Auction sites


Who are you buying from and what is their reputation?
Do they provide full contact details (physical address and phone contact)?
Do they guarantee both product and delivery?
Do they specialise in Cuban cigars?
Do they sell Grey Market product?
Are the prices in line with market prices or are they just too cheap?
Is there range of discontinued or special release stock too extensive or beyond general market quantities?
Do they send checked open boxes or sealed unchecked boxes?


Why are they selling?
What is the source of the cigars?
How have the cigars been kept?
Do they accept returns?

Cigar Condition

Purchasing cigars in poor condition can be just as disappointing as purchasing fakes.

There are always concerns when buying aged or vintage cigars sight-unseen from retailers, and buying any cigars from unknowledgeable individuals. Cigars stored for long periods of time at unregulated temperature and humidity conditions are likely to be unsmokable. Storage conditions are important.

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