Feb 25 - The era when a cigar sealed the deal is long over in London. Current levels of decline suggest the cigar will virtually disappear from Britain by 2026. But as Mia Reakes reports that's not the case in other parts of the world.
Cigars have long been associated with wealth, success and sealing the deal. Winston Churchill even dipped his in brandy. But over the past five years, cigar consumption has fallen by a fifth in the UK, mostly down to smoking bans and ever increasing duty rates. If current trends continue, the cigar could virtually vanish from Britain by 2026. But that's not the picture everywhere. At Cuba's 16th annual cigar festival in Havana, manufacturers and fans pay homage to one of the island's most important and successful exports. Luis Sánchez-Harguindey is Co-President of Habanos S.A. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LUIS SANCHEZ-HARGUINDEY, CO-PRESIDENT, HARDANOS S.A. SAYING: "We are quite happy about the performance of our sales last year. We increased 8% our total revenues, much higher than the average total of the luxury industry that grew by 2% and this growth is quite general." But Cuba's tobacco producers are still facing tough conditions and need to target consumers further afield: (SOUNDBITE) (English) LUIS SANCHEZ-HARGUINDEY, CO-PRESIDENT, HARDANOS S.A. SAYING: "Concerning our main challenges, it would be most probably mature markets, where we have very restrictive anti-smoking policies and also a global financial crisis. Our main driver for growth is coming from the emerging markets. Quite focused in Africa and the Middle East and also in Asia. " Habanos has also launched a shorter cigar called Julieta in a bid to target female smokers. Sales may be going up in smoke in the UK. But emerging market demand looks likely to keep Cuba's national treasure rolling off the production lines for some time to come