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Cuban cigars on a roll as they keep high price tag

IT WAS a fraught battle that had cigar-smokers lighting up in anticipation that the price of their favourite luxury labels would be slashed.

But yesterday the High Court ruled effectively that prices should remain unchanged when it upheld the right of the Corporacion Habanos to prevent its cigars from being imported into the UK from Cuba without its consent.

The decision followed an 18-month legal battle between Habanos, which owns the rights to Cuba's top cigar brands such as Montecristo cigars, Cohiba cigars and Romeo y Julieta cigars, and a five-year-old British company, MasterCigars.

MasterCigars bought a consignment of cigars in Cuba and imported them into the UK. They were seized by Customs, and Hunters & Frankau, which has the exclusive rights to distribute Habanos cigars in the UK, claimed that MasterCigars was in breach of a trademark.

Experts predicted that a win for MasterCigars - which yesterday pledged to seek leave to appeal against the court's decision - could have led to a drop in the price of hand-rolled Cuban cigars by as much as 50 per cent. At present in the UK a box of 25 Cohiba Esplendidos cigars can cost up to £700 while in Havana it costs less than £100.

MasterCigars had asked the court to rule on whether it had infringed any trademarks or patents by importing the cigars into the UK.

The company said that the decision would be detrimental to the UK cigar market. The British group had also been accused by Hunters & Frankau of importing counterfeit cigars, but the court agreed with MasterCigars that they were genuine.

The decision came as a relief also to Altadis, the Franco-Spanish tobacco company that owns a 50 per cent stake in Habanos. The other half of the business is owned by Tabacuba, Cuba's state tobacco company.

British American Tobacco has sold its Italian cigar business, Toscano, to a local business conglomerate for €95 million (£65 million). Maccaferri, which is a Bologna-based group with agricultural and industrial interests, will take over the Toscano factories in Lucca and Cava de' Tirreni.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Source: The Times

Cuban cigars on a roll as they keep high price tag