Will Syrian cigars be able to take on Cuba?

The Syrian cigars will have a logo including an eagle’s head and tobacco leaves, and will be packaged in wooden boxes

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison - Al Arabiya News
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Syrian cigars could soon be about to hit the market, but the question is whether they would be able to take on the very best that Cuba has to offer. Smoking connoisseurs say they might just catch on – assuming that existing sanctions against the Syrian General Organization of Tobacco do not get in the way.

The organization is set to start producing top end cigars by March this year after a series of test runs proved to be successful.

Nader Abdullah, director general of the Syrian company has said that initially the company – which is wholly owned by the Syrian state – will produce 10,000 cigars.

Abdullah told the Syrian state news agency SANA that he hoped the new line of cigars would help to create much needed 1,000 jobs in the war-torn country.

In 2012 the EU slapped an assets freeze on the General Organization of Tobacco, accusing it of providing financial support to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

But it would not be the first cigar-producer to succeed, despite tight regulations preventing the export of its produce.

Cuba has long had trade sanctions imposed on it, but its cigars are renowned among smokers around the world as being some of the best.

America is one of the biggest markets of cigars, there are still bars that allow customers to smoke inside – unlike their European counterparts – so if a new brand of cigar stands a chance of doing well anywhere in the world – the U.S. is one of the most likely places.

Earlier this month Barack Obama announced that the U.S. was to lift those sanctions against Cuba, and now cigar sellers across the states are gearing up for a rush on sales.

Joey Whittaker, senior sales manager at the Coroner Cigar Company in Orlando said: “There are a lot of inconsistencies in Cuban cigars, but I do think that when they first become available it will be like kids in a candy shop.

“People will want to try them. But I think this might very quickly subside, once the curiosity is over.”

He said it would be tough for any new producer to go against the likes of tobacco producing countries like Nicaragua, Dominican, and Honduras, which had “proven track records spanning centuries.”

But he said that if it were a high end product that was on offer then the company was always interested.

He added: “People do like new things especially in this industry. People like new tastes and if this is a tobacco grown in Syria, then it is likely it is going to taste drastically different to anything you can already purchase and people will want to experience that.”

The question remains though whether the General Organization of Tobacco will be able to export its produce widely around the globe, without the product being sold on the black market.

Gary Hickley, of McMahon Steakhouse in Tucson, Arizona, said that Syrian cigars might sell simply because of the same ‘forbidden fruit’ phenomenon experienced by the Cuban producers.

He said it was “possible” that Syrian cigars would sell, when put up against other high end brands.

But he added: “I’m not entirely sure that Syria has the right climate for growing tobacco – it seems awfully dry out there.”

And he added: “I’m not sure if the current political climate will reflect on the market and how it will allow for Syrian cigars to do here, people do vote with their feet here, that’s for sure.

“But if they are available here, then I’m sure people will want to try them.”

Once made, the new Syrian cigars will have a logo including an eagle’s head and tobacco leaves. The cigars will be packaged in wooden boxes.

Smokers generated 4.1 billion Syrian pounds in taxes in the first month of this year, according to Abdullah.

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