Fidel Castro Dies

November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro: 1926 - 2016 by Cigar Aficionado

Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for decades and was the longtime cigar-smoking symbol of the island nation, died on Friday at the age of 90. His brother Raul announced his death on Cuban television. 

Castro had been in poor health for some time, and had been largely absent from public view. In 2006, he underwent major intestinal surgery and handed over power to younger brother Raul. In October 2012 he was said to have suffered a major stroke. 

In Miami, people took to the streets in the early hours of Saturday morning as news of Castro's death filtered out. Many were shouting "Cuba libre," or "free Cuba."

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on his father's sugarcane farm in Biran, an agricultural town in southeastern Cuba located 500 miles from Havana, on August 13, 1926. He studied law at the University of Habana, and became a lawyer, and found himself at odds with Cuba's ruling clas. He founded a Revolutionary movement that culminated in his troop's seizing control of Cuba on New Year's Day 1959, depsing president Fulgencio Batista. 

Castro was initially hailed as a hero by many in the Cuban cigar industry before he led sweeping changes that made Cuba's cigar factories and famous cigar brands property of the Cuban estate. 

"I was in Cuba when Fidel Castro came down from the hills," said Frank Llaneza, the late maker of the Honduran Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigar brands, in a 2002 Cigar Aficionado story. "Everyone was very happy. That changed very quickly."

In 1960, Castro's troops nationalized the Cuban cigar industry, seizing factories and fields, and claiming Cuba's cigar brands such as Partagas, Montecristo, H. Upmann and endless others as properties of the state. Cuba would do the same to other industries, resulting in the exodus of many of the country's business owners, who lost their properties and assets to nationalization. 

Castro sparred famously with the United States, which declared a full embargo on Cuban goods (still referred to in Cuba as "el bloqueo,"  or "the blockade") in 1962. The embargo remains in effect, although U.S. President Obama has issued executive orders lessening its effects, including allowing American travellers to return home with Cuban cigars and rum for personal consumption. 

One of the legends about Castro was a CIA plot to kill him with an exploding cigar, as he was nearly always seen in his younger years with a cigar in his mouth. But he said he gave up smoking cigars at the age of 59 during an exclusive interview with Marvin R. Shanken that appeared in the Summer 1994 Cigar Aficionado magazine. 

"The cigar has made our country famous. It has given prestige to our country. Cuba is known among other things for the quality of its cigars," Castro told Shanken during the interview. 

When asked about his love of cigars, Castro said: "I enjoy a cigar because of its aroma, its taste and watching the smoke."

Castro held various titles over the years: prime minister (1959 to 1976), president (1976 to 2008) and first secretary of Cuba's communist party (1961 to 2011). While the names have changed, his rule over the country was considered absolute up until he transferred power to his brother--and many believed he still ran the country after that. 

In 1994, Castro sat down for an extensive interview with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine. Click here to read the interview. 

Video: Smoking With Castro--Marvin, Fidel And The Cohiba Connection


EPC Reintroduces the 5th Year Anniversary Cigar

November 11, 2016

For months, customers and retailers have been peppering us with the question: When will you have more 5th year anniversary cigars ready for sale? Well, I can tell you that a few dozen boxes just arrived! This cigar was first introduced in 2014 as a limited edition but it has been such a hit, we had to produce more to meet demand. Check out this video as Ernesto explains the story behind this special cigar. 

Size: 6 1/2 x 54

Wrapper: Ecuador Sumatra

Binder: Corojo 99 Nicaragua

Filler: Nicaragua

Body: Medium

Foes of Tobacco-Tax Hike Pour Millions Into Race

September 6, 2016 - By Melody Gutierrez

SACRAMENTO — The campaign over a ballot measure that would raise the state’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack of cigarettes is shaping up as one of the most expensive among the long list of initiatives confronting California voters in November.

In August alone, the tobacco industry poured $20 million into fighting Proposition 56, which would increase the state’s tax on cigarettes for the first time since 1999 to $2.87 per pack, up from the current 87 cents, and impose comparable increases on other forms of tobacco. The tax would raise $1.4 billion and be used to fund health care, prevention programs and research.

Mike Roth, spokesman for the Yes on Prop. 56 campaign, said raising the cost of buying tobacco has been shown to be a successful deterrent to smoking.

Several independent studies, as well as research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that increasing the price of cigarettes reduces the demand for them, particularly among teenagers and young adults. The most common way governments increase the cost of cigarettes is through a tobacco tax.

“Prop. 56 will increase our tax by $2 and protect kids and save lives,” Roth said.

The tobacco industry has already lost one major battle in California this year. In the spring, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bills raising the smoking age to 21 from 18 and putting e-cigarettes and other vaping products, many of them made by tobacco firms, under the same regulatory structure as tobacco.

Prop. 56 would also put vaping products under the tobacco umbrella, meaning the tax would also apply, for the first time, to e-cigarettes containing nicotine.

In all, the tobacco industry has poured $37 million into the opposition campaign, which is being led by a coalition of antitax groups. That’s $7 million more than the combined spending, pro and con, on initiatives to legalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty, speed up the death penalty, restrict ammunition sales and require adult film actors to use condoms.

In 2012, when voters narrowly defeated a $1 increase in tobacco taxes, opponents led by tobacco companies spent nearly $47 million against the measure.

“If we are going to tax smokers another $1.4 billion, then more should go toward helping them quit,” said Beth Miller, spokeswoman for the No on Prop. 56 campaign.

Miller acknowledged that devoting more money to such efforts wouldn’t have persuaded opponents to back the measure.

“When there are legal products for sale, there is no industry who would enjoy a targeted tax on them, whether it’s cigarettes or soda or gasoline,” Miller said.

“But the reality is, we have serious concerns about where the money goes,” she added.

Opponents also say they have problems with where the money raised by Prop. 56 wouldn’t go: One of their main complaints is that the measure “cheats schools out of $600 million.”

That’s how much education would receive next fiscal year if the money raised by Prop. 56 went to the general fund. By law, 43 percent of general-fund revenue raised goes to public schools and community colleges.

Money raised by Prop. 56 would go to a special fund, as does revenue from the state’s current tobacco tax.

 “We have a problem with that, given the situation with school funding in California,” Miller said.

Miller declined to say whether the coalition would support the tax if Prop. 56 included more money for schools. Roth, for one, is skeptical.

“Since when has Big Tobacco been a champion for schools and our kids?” he said.

“The tobacco industry is using an age-old ploy — it’s an argument to undermine the integrity of the proposal,” said Larry Gerston, professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University. “What they are trying to do is tear away voters with an argument that might resonate.”

With 17 ballot measures this year, the goal for opposition campaigns will be to confuse voters, said Bob Stern, former president at the Center for Governmental Studies.

“When voters get confused, they vote no,” Stern said.

Roth said this year’s campaign has a bigger coalition working to pass the measure.

The bulk of the pro-Prop. 56 money has come from associations representing hospitals, doctors, dentists, insurance companies and labor unions.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer gave $1 million to the campaign last year. Planned Parenthood has also contributed substantially.

California’s current tobacco tax ranks 35th in the country, with the 87-cents-per-pack levy on cigarettes at barely half the national average of $1.60.

Roth said it’s only fair that smokers pay more, given that state taxpayers have to subsidize the cost of treating smoking-related diseases through the state’s Medi-Cal program for the poor. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an antitobacco advocacy group, estimates that the state’s costs for smoking amount to more than $18 a pack when factoring in health care costs.

Under Prop. 56, Medi-Cal would receive the largest portion of the tax revenue — between $710 million and $1 billion in fiscal 2017-18, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Schools would receive $20 million for prevention education. Five percent would go to the University of California for medical research of tobacco-related diseases.

Administrative expenses would be capped at 5 percent.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office said the amount each program will receive will decrease each year as fewer people take up smoking or quit due to prevention programs or the higher tax. That could put the state on the hook for continuing to fund those programs, critics argued.

Jim Knox, vice president of government relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, a major supporter of Prop. 56, said he doesn’t buy that argument.

“The tobacco tax is more predicable and reliable than sales taxes,” Knox said. “The tobacco tax we passed 28 years ago is still providing a reliable steady source of income to the state. As the revenue goes down because people stop smoking, the costs also go down.”

Both the Yes and No campaigns have one thing in common, however.

They said they will spend whatever it takes to “get the message out.”

History of tax plans

Previous ballot measures to raise the tobacco tax

1988 — Proposition 99

Impose tax of 25 cents per pack

Approved: 58 to 42 percent

1998 — Proposition 10

Raise tax by 50 cents per pack

Approved: 50.5 to 49.5 percent

2000 — Proposition 28

Repeal of Prop. 10 tobacco tax

Failed: 28 to 72 percent

2006 — Proposition 86

Raise tax $2.60 per pack

Failed: 48.3 to 51.7 percent

2012 — Proposition 29

Raise tax $1 per pack

Failed: 49.8 to 50.2 percent

2016 — Proposition 56

Raise tax $2 per pack

Death of a Legend: Carlos Fuente Sr.

FUENTE, Carlos Arturo, age 81, born and raised in Ybor City and resident of Tampa, Florida and Santiago, Dominican Republic, passed away on August 5, 2016. 

Carlos was born in Tampa on May 6, 1935 to Arturo and Cristina Fuente. At the age of 18, Carlos married the love of his life, Anna Louisa Lopez Fuente. They celebrated 62 years of marriage prior to Anna's death on December 10, 2015. 

Carlos inherited his passion for cigars from his father Arturo, the founder of Arturo Fuente Cigars. Carlos took the reins of the Arturo Fuente cigar company at a very young age and spent his life building it from a tiny company in Tampa into one of the largest and most respected premium cigar companies in the world. Carlos served as a leader, mentor, and inspiration to many people in the cigar industry. He was dedicated to his home town, Tampa where he maintained his company headquarters, and to his adopted home of Santiago, Dominican Republic, where his cigar factories and plantations were located. Carlos was grateful to the people of the Dominican Republic, particularly his many friends and those who work in the Fuente companies for their contribution to the success of Arturo Fuente Cigars. 

Carlos' love for the cigar industry was only surpassed by his love for his family. Carlos' family included those related to him by blood, and many others whom Carlos took under his wing. Carlos led by example, not with words. He asked nothing of others that he did not demad of himself. His loyalty and honesty were legendary. Carlos was extremely generous during his life, but by choice, he gave to those in need with little or no recognition. Carlos felt blessed to have both his son, Carlos Fuente, Jr., and his daughter, Cynthia Fuente Suarez, work with him in the family company, which has persevered as a family business since 1912. 

Carlos was surrounded by family, in body, prayer and spirit, at the time of his passing. He is survived by his children Carlos Fuente, Jr., Cynthia Fuente Suarez and Richard Fuente, grandchildren Liana Fuente, Rosana Fuente, Christina Suarez, Lidiana Fuente, Bianca Suarez, Sofia Fuente and Carlos Fuente III, his great-grandchildren Alvaro Valerio, Jr., Arturo Valerio, and Anna Valentina Valerio, and brother Arturo Fuente. Carlos was preceded in death by his wife Anna Louisa Lopez Fuente, his grandson Carlos O. Suarez, and his parents Arturo and Cristina Fuente. 

A funeral Mass will be held on August 13, 2016 at 10:00 am at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 3012 W. Cherry St., Tampa Florida 33607  After the Mass, the family will host a Celebration of Life beginning at 6:00 pm at the Fuente Building, 1310 N. 22nd St., Tampa Florida 33605. All who wish to honor Carlos' life are welcome to attend the Mass and the Celebration of Life. 

There will be no visitation hours, and the family respectfully request no visitors at the family home. 

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Cigar Family Charitable Foundation ( or the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay ( Please send written condolences to 1310 N. 22nd St., Tampa Florida 33605.