Avo Uvezian, Legendary Cigar Manufacturer, Dies at 91

March 24, 2017


Legendary Armenian-American jazz pianist and cigar manufacturer Avo Uvezian passed away on March 24, two days after his 91st birthday. 

Known in the cigar industry for his Avo brands and his sharp sense of style, Uvezian was long a vivacious part of the cigar industry, touring in support of his cigars even at 90 years old. A showman and cigar lover, it wasn't uncommon to see Uvezian play piano at a cigar event while puffing on one of his cigars and waxing poetic about the joys of smoking. 

Uvezian first came into cigar prominence when the Avo line was born in 1987, but his cigar story started long before that. 

Born in 1926 in Beirut, Lebanon, Uvezian formed a musical group called the Liban Boys in 1945 right after the end of World War II. They managed to get a contract playing in a hotel in Baghdad, where the group lasted a year before moving on to a hotel in Tehran. Uvezian quickly made a name for himself as a pianist and eventually received an invitation from Shah Reza Pahlevi, at the time the leader of Iran, to play at his palace. Uvezian stayed in Tehran for a year, and made such an impression on the Shah that he recommended that Uvezian go to America, and personally paid for his trip. 

Uvezian arrived in New York City in 1947, playing in various bands while studying at Juilliard. After two years in the U.S. Army, he eventually found himself in Puerto Rico in the jewelry business. But music called him back, and by 1974 he was playing piano at the Palmas del Mar resort. During this time, he made a crucial observation: people not only came to hear his music, but they liked smoking cigars. Uvezian would purchase a few local cigars each night and place them on top of the piano for anyone who wanted to smoke. 

"Customers and friends used to write me and ask me for cigars," Uvezian told Cigar Aficionado in an interview. "That's when I said to myself that I better look at getting serious about this."

Uvezian was introduced to Davidoff's cigarmaker Hendrik "Henke" Kelner, and in 1987, his first cigars from Kelner were sold under the Bolero label in San Juan. Shortly after, he changed the cigar name to Avo and debuted them in New York City. The brand was created exclusively for the Davidoff shop. 

Uvezian launched Avo across the U.S. in 1988, and in 1995, Davidoff purchased the distribution rights for the brand. In 10 years, Uvezian saw his brand grow from about 5,000 cigars in 1987 to about 3.2 million in 1997. 

"He's like family," said Jeff Borysiewicz of Corona Cigar in Orlando. "He was family. He's the godfather of my kids. He brought charisma and charm to the industry and people were attracted to him. He had the kind of magnetism I'd never seen. Avo spoke so many languages and had such an international life. He was incredible." 

Since the early-2000s, Uvezian has celebrated his birthday with a special, limited-edition cigar and a cigar party as well as a national tour. Though tour dates decreased as he got a little older, he usually made time for New York. Last year, Uvezian made an appearance in Manhattan for his 90th birthday. 

"People always aske me, 'Avo, what's your secret?'" Uvezian said at the time. "And I tell them that every time you smoke cigars, you have given yourself another day of life. I think I'm going to be doing this until I'm 99 years old. That way, when I get to 99, I'll say 'Well, I might as well go to 100.'"

He almost made it. 

Avo Uvezian is survived by his wife, Nivia, his sons Robert, Jeffrey and Ronnie, and his daughter Karyn. 

Patriots Revel In Super Bowl LI Victory with Padron Cigars

By Blake Droesch

Posted February 6, 2017

Patriots owner Robert Kraft has some experience celebrating Super Bowl victories, so it should com as no surprise that the five-time champion came to Houston's NRG Park with a box of premium cigars to pass out after New England's incredible comeback victory in Super Bowl LI. 

After a debilitating first half, an improbable 25-point comeback and a nail-biting overtime drive to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, Kraft was seen handing out Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Maduro cigars to his players and coaching staff as he congratulated them on their victory. 

A video posted to Twitter by NFL.com's Dan Hanzus showed a jovial Kraft navigating the crowded locker room with the box of Padrons. MVP Tom Brady embraced Kraft, but seemed more concerned with his missing Super Bowl jersey than picking up a cigar. 

As far as the cigar selection goes, Kraft's choice seemed to be a good one. This particular line of Padrons tend to enjoy high ratings in Cigar Aficionado's blind tastings. One size, the short-and-squat Hermoso, recently scored 93 points, which is considered outstanding on our 100-point scale. 

The Patriots will bring the Lombardi Trophy home to parade through the streets of Boston tomorrow morning. We'll see which smokes Kraft will be passing out then. 

Update on Proposition 56

December 27, 2016

Due to the passage of Proposition 56, effective April 1, 2017, section 30121 (b) of the Revenue and Taxation Code is amended to add little cigars to the definition of "tobacco products" for state taxation purposes. Prior to April 1, 2017, little cigars are considered "cigarettes" for state taxation purposes. Products labeled as little cigars will not be subject to the April 1, 2017 floor stock tax on cigarettes required under Proposition 56. 

Proposition 56 added section 30130.52 to the Revenue and Taxation Code imposing a floor stock/stamp adjustment tax on all retailers, wholesalers and distributors of cigarettes, on each stamped package of cigarettes in their posession or control as of April 1, 2017 at 12:01 a.m., and distributors will also pay a stamp adjustment tax on affixed or unaffixed cigarette tax stamps in their possession or control as of April 1, 2017 at 12:01 a.m. The floor stock tax does not apply to "other tobacco products" as defined under section 30121 (b) of the Revenue and Taxation Code. 

On and after April 1, 2017, the state excise tax will apply to the distribution of little cigars at the same rate as other tobacco products. Currently, the tax rate on the distribution of tobacco products is 27.30 percent of the wholesale cost of the tobacco product. Effective April 1, 2017, distributors of little cigars will be responsible for remitting the Tobacco Product Tax on their distributions of their product. Distributors with stamped packages of small cigars in their inventory on and after April 1, 2017 can distribute the stamped packages of little cigars as "tax paid" tobacco products to wholesalers and retailers until their inventories of stamped packages of little cigars are exhausted. Any unstamped packages of little cigars distributed on and after April 1, 2017 within a distributor's inventory should remain unstamped, and their subsequent distribution to wholesalers and retailers must be substantiated by invoices showing the 27.30 percent of the wholesale cost of the tobacco product charged as tax. 

Effective April 1, 2017, Proposition 56 increases the cigarette tax rate from $0.0435 to $0.1435 per cigarette (the tax on a package of 20 cigarettes will increase from $0.87 to $2.87). The tax on distributions of tobacco products, including little cigars, will also increase at a rate equivalent to the Proposition 56 increase on cigarettes. In April 2017, the Board will determine the tax rate on tobacco products for Fiscal Year 2017-18, which will be based on the wholesale price of cigarettes as of March 1, 2017, and will be equivalent to the tax on cigarettes. We estimate that the tobacco products tax rate will be between 65 and 68 percent on the wholesale cost of the distribution. The tax rate increase on tobacco products will take effect July 1, 2017. There will not be a floor stock tax on other tobacco products.

New Law Helps Prevent Cigarette Tax Evasion

November 30, 2016

California State Board of Equalization Special Notice

The California State Board of Equalization's (BOE) inspection teams have recently identified cigarette tax evasion schemes involving the accumulation of used cigarette tax stamps. Unlike postage stamps, cigarette stamps are generally not used as collectibles. Used cigarette tax stamps do not have monetary value, except for tax evasion purposes. 

To help prevent cigarette tax evasion, the Governor signed Assembly Bill (AB) 1901 (Stats. 2016, Ch.662) to give the BOE authority to seize and destory any "unaffixed" cigarette tax stamps aggregated to reuse, and makes it a misdemeanor for any person to possess, sell or offer to sell, or buy or offer to buy, any false, fraudulent, or "unaffixed" cigarette tax stamps starting January 1, 2017. 

For purposes of the law, "unaffixed stamps" means cigarette tax stamps which the tax has previously been paid by a Cigarette and Tobacco Products licensed distributor and were previously affixed to cigarette packs. "Unaffixed stamps" do not include any unused and unapplied rolls of stamps or loose stamps acquired from the BOE or its authorized agent and in the possession of a licensed distributor. 

Anyone found with "unaffixed" cigarette tax stamps for reuse purposes is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $50,000, or imprisonment (not to exceed one year in a county jail), or by both the fine and imprisionment. 

For more information

Visit the BOE's online Cigarette and Tobacco Products tax guide at: