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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 15:47 GMT
Cheap smoke hope for cigar lovers
Cuban women smoking cigars
Cuban women take a cigar break
Connoisseurs who enjoy nothing more than putting their feet up and watching the smoke curl from their Cuban cigars could be about to burn less of their money.

The price paid by smokers in the UK for Cuban cigars could more than halve depending on the outcome of a crucial 18-month court battle.

UK importers, MasterCigars Direct and Hunters & Frankau are flicking ash at one another over which firm has the right to import Cuban cigars for British smokers.

Hunters claims it is the exclusive importer for Cuban cigars into the UK because of its agreement with Cuban state-owned manufacturer and trademark owner Corporacion Habanos.

It accuses MasterCigars of importing counterfeit Cuban cigars into the UK in breach of trademark.

Up in smoke

But MasterCigars says its cigars were bought from an official Cuban outlet and that Habanos allows more than one trader to sell them for export to other countries.

Importing the luxury stogies is a lucrative business.

For instance, in Havana a smoker would pay less than 100 for a box of 25 Cuban Esplendidos cigars. But the same box can cost up to 700 in the UK.

If MasterCigars wins the case and stubs out Hunter's monopoly the floodgates could open for other cigar importers, which could see prices slashed by up to 50%.

Hand-rolled Cuban cigars such as Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julietta could soon be a less rare sight between the lips of British smokers.

A judgement on the 18-month court battle is expected this month.

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