How will Covid-19 effect the cigar industry? With the pandemic currently raging havoc around the world, it’s a good time to ask how it will affect the cigar industry.
Events and lounges
With countries all over the world locking down or limiting gatherings, the first to feel the pain are retailers. Several European countries, like Italy and Austria, are locked-down. Bars, restaurants, and shops are closed, excluding supermarkets and pharmacies. So that means that tobacconists and cigar lounges closed the doors too, mandatory. In other countries, shops are still open yet retailers decided to close their smoke lounges. Yuri Dijkstra and Olav Meijer from the La Casa del Habano Almere (The Netherlands) realized that with the number of international visitors in their lounge, closing the lounge for two weeks was a necessary move to prevent further contamination. Other retailers are thinking about closing lounges as well. Other companies, such as Royal Agio Cigars, have decided that account managers have to stop visiting accounts and work from home due to the virus.
Several events have been canceled. As mentioned earlier, the Asian qualifiers for the Cigar Smoking World Championship are canceled. Although the Malaysian qualifier is back on the roster with local judges. The largest cigar gathering in the world, Cigarfest has been postponed (source: halfwheel). The Tobacconist Association of America convention has been postponed as well. Camacho canceled the Camp Camacho factory tours. And more big events have been postponed or canceled. The three big cigar festivals, Habanos Festival, Puro Sabor and Procigar already took place, otherwise, these would have been postponed as well. The Asian leg of the Duty-Free tradeshow, TFWA is also canceled for 2020. Drew Estate had to cancel a promotional trip to Germany. For now, the PCA, formerly known as IPCPR, is still on the agenda for July (source: cigar-coop). Intertabac, which will take place in September in Dortmund, Germany, is also waiting to see how the situation develops.
Travel and export
But those are direct effects. Yet, what will be next? A lot of countries have closed their borders partially or completely. When the borders are closed for travelers coming from Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic, blenders, factory owners and brand owners would not be able to travel back and forth. Or if those countries close the borders, people are not able to travel to the factories. That would hurt quality control and production.
It could even get worse, what if countries decide not to accept cargo from the Caribbean anymore for a few weeks. That would hurt sales for the factories, for wholesalers and eventually retailers as well. Warehouses would run empty and therefore shops will have lower stock.
The cigar producing countries are all poor, developing countries. Countries with less access to medical facilities as the Western world. And less access to hygiene and other means to prevent outbreaks. So far, Nicaragua doesn’t have any confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus, but the virus did infect people in Honduras, Costa Rica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Without precautions, the virus will spread like wildfire. And when governments aren’t taking the virus seriously, they put the country at risk. Just last week, the leading party in Nicaragua, FSNL, held a parade with thousands of participants and spectators against the advice of the WHO.
In most countries, cigar rollers work in pairs. So there is a high risk of spreading the virus. And those pairs are all in one big room, so only one infected roller could potentially cripple a complete factory. With the lack of healthcare and test kits in the Caribbean countries, this is a severe and real threat to cigar manufacturers. Factories could face a shortage of staff for a long time. And with the mentioned lack of access to quality healthcare, the fatality rate will probably be higher than in the developed countries.
What to do?
We urge the governments in cigar producing countries to follow the advice of the WHO. And seek advice from Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, as these countries seem to have the situation under control. Request help from developed countries for testing the population, and limiting the outbreak.
But it’s not just governments that should have a plan in place. The same goes for cigar factories. Focus on hygiene, raise the standards to way over the regular standards. Provide workers with extra soap and sanitizers for home use as well. Send workers with symptoms home and have them tested for the virus. Spread the rollers over more rooms if possible. Make sure people stay a meter away from each other during breaks. But also, send as much stock to the international warehouses as soon as possible, before borders are closed completely.
As for us, consumers, go to your local cigar shop. Get yourself some extra cigars. That way you will help the retailer survive in case the shop has to close for a few weeks. And you will still have something to smoke when that happens. Being quarantined sucks, but being quarantined with cigars makes it a lot more enjoyable. But don’t panic, don’t hoard toilet paper. The world will still be turning in a few weeks. For most of the infected, this is nothing more than a cold. Only people with underlying conditions are at risk, if you’re not part of that group, don’t overreact. Humanity will survive, and mankind will become resilient against this virus just as we became resilient to influenza. Vaccines are being developed and it’s a matter of time before this all blows over. Until then, relax, prevent, and keep on smoking cigars.