Premium Cigar Imports Decreased 8.3 Percent in 2019

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The number of premium cigars imported to the U.S. was significantly down in 2019,

Data from both the government and the Cigar Association of America (CAA), an industry trade group, show that the number of large or premium cigar imports declined. The extent of the drop depends on how the numbers are evaluated. The government data in its purest form indicates an 8.28 percent drop in the number of cigars imported that were valued at 23 cents or more. CAA, as is explained below, estimates the drop for premium cigars was slightly softer, down 7.1 percent compared to 2018.

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Large Cigar Import Data

 TotalJanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
2017351.01113.34526.35632.3326.05531.16231.92631.64233.97928.26332.3534.35729.246
2018386.26819.04428.29129.7131.52835.15335.57236.37836.54432.9137.37931.86831.891
2019356.72317.1429.829.61829.29232.84730.9935.35930.49128.34533.12229.82229.897
Change-8.29 percent-11.11 percent5.06 percent-0.31 percent-7.63 percent-7.02 percent-14.79 percent-2.88 percent-19.85 percent-16.11 percent-12.85 percent-6.86 percent-6.67 percent
Numbers in millions.
Data via Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, large cigars imported to the U.S. valued at 23 cents or more.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) indicated that the number of large cigars that were imported at a value of 23 cents or more was 356.72 million in 2019, down from 386.27 million in 2018. Notably, Q1—historically weakest quarter of imports—saw an essentially flat change in imports, whereas the remaining quarters were down 7 percent, 11 percent and 8.2 percent respectively.

CAA takes the government’s data and then uses its members to help estimate the number of premium cigars by adjusting the import numbers from the Dominican Republic, which also produces billions of machine-made and cheaper cigars. The group estimated that of the Dominican Republic’s 122.02 million large cigars valued at 23 cents or more, roughly 16 million would not be considered premium, creating an estimate of 106.23 million premium cigars from the Dominican Republic in 2019. It does not make this adjustment for any other country and many Dominican cigarmakers are irked by the CAA’s adjustments.

Those numbers would suggest that imports of premium cigars dropped by 24.2 million units with the steepest declines coming from the Dominican Republic and Honduras, while Nicaragua was relatively flat.

Premium Cigar Import Numbers by Country (Cigar Association of America)

Country20152016201720182019Change
Bahamas291925234143.90 percent
Costa Rica2502233403793913.07 percent
Dominican Republic126,123115,621118,461118,191106,230-11.25 percent
Honduras67,62671,27061,77169,65360,293-15.52 percent
Mexico286348177143129-10.85 percent
Nicaragua119,961134,359148,292172,616169,353-1.92 percent
Panama24133
Phillipines1,0054498639351,28127.01 percent
Total315,280322,313330,062361,940337,718
All numbers in thousands.
Data via the Cigar Association of America, based on data from the U. S. Census Bureau, Imports of Merchandise for Consumption, IM-146, which is based on data of the U. S. Customs Service.
The Cigar Association of America modifies the number of Dominican cigar imports to help to create what it calls a "pure premium" number based on data from its member companies.

Regardless—as many people within the cigar industry witnessed in 2019—the industry was unable to beat its record 2018 in terms of premium cigar imports, likely the first time the numbers have decreased in over a decade. Per the CAA, the declines seem to be limited to just the higher-end cigars as both the overall large cigar number—which includes both premium cigars and others—and the little cigar import numbers were up compared to 2018.

The TTB has published its January import numbers and indicated that there were 14.88 million cigars valued at 23 cents or more imported in that month, down from 17.14 million in 2019 and 19.04 million in 2018.

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Charlie Minato
About the author

I am an editor and co-founder of halfwheel.com/Rueda Media, LLC. I previously co-founded and published TheCigarFeed, one of the two predecessors of halfwheel. I handle the editing of our written content, the majority of the technical aspects of the site and work with the rest of our staff on content management, business development and more. I’ve lived in most corners of the country and now entering my second stint in Dallas, Texas. I enjoy boxing, headphones, the Le Mans 24-hour, wearing sweatshirts year-round and gyros. echte liebe.

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