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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 17:43 GMT
Cigar lovers face cheaper smokes
Cuban women smoking cigars
Cigars are a key part of life in Cuba
The price of hand-rolled Cuban cigars in the UK could halve after a ruling that a firm could import them without the manufacturer's permission.

Appeal court judges said that a company bringing them to the UK was not breaking trade laws, even though it was not the official importer.

Mastercigars Direct had been importing the cigars after buying them from an official outlet in Cuba.

The maker, Corporacion Habanos, said it might appeal to the House of Lords.

Habanos is the firm behind cigar brands including H. Upmann and Punch.

Lucrative

Until now, another distributor, Hunters and Frankau, had been the only firm with permission to bring the cigars into the UK.

However, Habanos also supplied outlets in Cuba, which in turn sold small commercial quantities to foreign firms such as Mastercigars.

The appeal judges found that because this happened - and because Habanos was ordering them to provide the documentation to allow them to be taken out of the country - then Habanos was giving use of the trademark in the UK.

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.

Analysts say the floodgates could open for other cigar importers, which could see prices slashed by up to 50%.

Habanos said it was "surprised" by the ruling and insisted it did not mean that companies would be able to import its cigars without its permission.


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