January 4, 1999

Cuba announces plan to boost cigar output

                  HAVANA (AP) -- Cuban officials plan to produce 200 million cigars in
                  1999, double the level of two years earlier, the semi-official newspaper
                  Trabajadores reported Monday.

                  Cuba produced 160 million cigars in 1998, according to Osvaldo
                  Encarnacion, director of the Union de Empresas de Tobaco, as quoted by
                  the newspaper.

                  Trabajadores -- the only national newspaper published on Monday -- said
                  the rise in production was aided by increased planting of tobacco in central
                  and eastern Cuba, beyond the tobacco heartland of Pinar del Rio province
                  in western Cuba whose cigar tobacco is generally consider the world's

                  The provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus in central Cuba combined
                  for 55 million cigars this year, according to the newspaper. It did not give
                  breakdowns for other areas.

                  Pinar del Rio still produces the tobacco for Cuba's costly, top-line cigars.
                  Tobacco from other regions is often used for cheaper machine-made cigars
                  or for those sold on the domestic market.

                  The country now has 43 tobacco factories, up from 17 in 1994, and plans to
                  add 11 more this year, the newspaper said.

                  Trabajadores is the official newspaper of the Cuban Workers
                  Confederation, which is linked to the Cuban Communist Party.

                  Though banned in the United States under a decades-old economic
                  embargo, Cuban cigars are highly prized by some smokers.

                  Gordon Mott, managing editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine, has said most
                  Cuban cigars are smuggled into the country in small quantities by individuals.
                  He estimated between 6 million and 8 million are brought in yearly.

                  Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.