Cigars are increasingly being included in auctions notably at Christies in tandem with collectible wines. Cigar magazines are appearing in the market to satisfy a growing interest.

However Cuban cigars, the most expensive and desired, are often not the genuine article.

In fact in Canada, where a survey was carried out recently, 80% of 'Cuban cigars' were found to be fake.

That is not necessarily to say that all these cigars were not from Castro's country, but that if they were they were improperly made, and even transporting such cigars out of the country breaks Cuban law.

Genuine Cuban cigars, Habanos, are made by a state controlled company of the same name.

Employees may illicitly sweep up tobacco off the factory floor, or out of boxes meant for cigar storage to make extra cigars with other materials from the factory.

But whether cigars are made unofficially from factory materials or not, only official Habanos can be exported. Others find their way out by the same channels as drug smugglers use.

To check if a box of Cuban cigars is genuine:

It contains a green and white warranty seal on the left front side. The seal will contain an insignia showing a shield on the left hand side, and from 2009 will have a barcode and hologram.

There should also be a diagonally placed 'Habanos' sticker and 'Habanos' heat stamped (not ink-stamped) on the base of the box.

As for the cigars themselves, they should have a distinctive, satisfying scent and be evenly wrapped. Cigars should neither be too loose, nor so tight that they feel hard. The exterior should not be chalky, though it may be speckled.

Paul Fraser.

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