A 14-year legal odyssey has seen Cubatabaco, the Cuban state tobacco monopoly, desperately trying to protect its Cohiba brand in the coveted U.S. marketplace. A recent ruling, however, found in favor of General Cigar, now a subsidiary of Swedish Match.
For decades (and even longer, in some cases), Cuban cigars were created under well-known names such as Montecristo, Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, and others. However, Cubatabaco failed to trademark its brand names in the Unites States, where sales of its product were effectively illegalized by the Embargo of 1962.
General Cigar began marketing cigars under the "Cohiba" name in 1978. Its Cameroon-wrapped "red dot" Cohiba cigars bowed in 1997, earning serious praise and a cult-like following.
But that's just one brand. Nearly every Cuban brand name has a Dominican-, Honduran-, or Nicaraguan-made counterpart marketed to American cigar smokers, for whom Cuban cigars remain illegal (even abroad).
To further complicate matters, one of General Cigar's biggest competitors, Altadis, acquired in 2000 a 50% stake in Habanos S.A., the promotion, distribution, and export arm of Cubatabaco. Altadis currently manufacturers the non-Cuban Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta, meaning the deal granted Cubatabaco some modicum of control over these Cubancigar brands stateside.
All that raises a two-part question:
- Will we see an end to the Embargo any time soon?
- Judging by Cubatabaco's actions, it would seem THEY hope so.
- If/When the Embargo DOES end, what does that mean for all these so-called "Cuban Exile" brands?