Habana Residents Can't Afford Smoke Cigars
Pinal Del Rio is the heart of the tobacco growing region, the same as Havana. Generally very few of the Cubans themselves smoke cigars. The price of cigars, and low local salaries, keep cigars away from the great majority of people, making the popular Cuban cigar available mostly for foreigners – export and tourists.
Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who was always smoking a Cuban Cohiba cigar, quit smoking in the middle of 1980s. A severe anti-smoking campaign by the government officials in the past 10 years also has had an effect. But it is really about the price. Stiven Rob, a taxi driver from Vinales, a town in the tobacco region, gives his passengers two cigars as a goodwill gesture on a way from Habana, and then offers them to buy more. As for himself, he doesn’t smoke cigars.“The only people I have ever seen smoking cigars have been in cigar plants, and even in Pinar del Rio, someone could light up for show. I can say, that cigar is a luxurious good,” stated Bill Messina, economist at the University of Florida who is an expert on Cuba and visited this country for many times since the 1990s.
With low salaries that vary from $17 to $20 a month, even a cigar that cost approximately a dollar is something unreal. You may find some low-quality cigar available for less than a dollar, but they are not popular. Archibald Ritter, a Cuba specialist at Ottawa’s University, stated that just 10 years ago cigars were included in every monthly ration card, about five cigars at a discount price.
Cigars are one of Cuba’s main exporters, along with sugar and nickel, but they have been a constant source of profit, as well of great pride. “Cigar remains a status symbol,” stated Jose Azel, an expert at the University of Miami.
Cuba exported around $250 million in cigars last year, according to Rafael Romeu, the president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. That constitutes about 4.5% of the Cuban exports. “It possesses a more symbolic role, as it is a brand for Cuba,” Mr. Romeu added. And also a brand mostly desired in the United States, where Cuban cigars have been the high-status product in a 50-year economic prohibition of communist Cuba.