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כתבות ומאמרים - Cigar makers burned by fakes
Miami.-  Cigar smokers beware: Those handmade Montecristos, Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas may not be the premium smokes they seem.
 
Law enforcement and cigar industry officials say counterfeiters are marketing millions of dollars in fake upscale cigars, some pretending to be authentic Cubans that are illegal to sell in the United States. A recent crackdown has uncovered several major counterfeit operations, including one in Miami that resulted in the seizure of more than $20 million in fake cigars, labels and packaging.
 
'The person that's hurt the most is the consumer,' said Theo Folz, president and chief executive officer of Altadis USA, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is the world's largest maker and distributor of cigars. 'We have developed products and built up on image and built up an expectation among the consumers. Guys put their money down. They want the real thing.'
 
With its proximity to Cuba and the Caribbean and large population of Cuban expatriates, South Florida has become a national hotbed for cigar counterfeiters. U.S. and state law enforcement officials, at the request of Altadis, have made more than a dozen arrests over the past six months with investigators now focusing on higher- level organizers.
 
'We're getting into the bigger targets and the ones who try to conceal it better,' said an undercover U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, who agreed to be identified only as Ramon to protect his identity. 'I think there's a lot more. We have only gotten the lower-level guys.'
 
Still, what was seized late last year from several warehouses in Miami astounded both the police and industry officials. There were enough counterfeit cigar bands, boxes, cellophane and other materials for between 30 and 50 million cigars - sufficient to make a significant dent in the legitimate premium market.
 
'We've all gotten an appreciation that the counterfeiting problem is much greater than we thought it was,' said Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America in Washington.
 
According to U.S. government statistics, Americans smoked about 5.1 billion large cigars in 2005 and spent about $3.2 billion on all cigars. Of those, about 321 million were classified as premium - that is, they were handmade, usually of long tobacco filler instead of chopped tobacco, and retailed for at least $1 apiece. Such cigars can run upward of $30 each.
 
Altadis USA, a subsidiary of the Spanish tobacco giant Altadis, holds the trademark rights to many of the best- known Cuban cigar brands including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann. General Cigar, based in New York, holds the rights to Cohiba, Partagas, Macanudo and other premium brands.
 
Because cigars from communist Cuba cannot be sold legally in the United States, Altadis makes its Cuban heritage cigars marketed in this country in the Dominican Republic. The Spanish parent, however, can market the real Cuban cigars around the world under the same brands.
 
That means anyone who uses those brands to market a cigar as made in 'Habana' or as a 'Cuban replica' is either violating the U.S. embargo against Cuba or the trademark rights of Altadis, General Cigar and other companies. Altadis USA, which has 7,800 employees and had 2005 revenue of about $700 million, has been leading the charge against counterfeiters using its own private investigators to assist the police.
 
Customs agents say some of the fakes originate in Cuba itself, where workers at national cigar factories frequently steal labels, cigar rings and a special gold-embossed paper that makes them appear more real. Investigators have seized several shipments of this packaging sent by courier from Cuba through the Bahamas and on to South Florida.
 
Some counterfeiters simply make their own replica packaging at elaborate operations in the Miami area, where many Cuban-Americans have experience with cigars. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference in labels, experts said, but it is usually obvious which ones are fake to an experienced smoker.
 
'Many of the bad cigars have a bad odor,' said Leora Herrmann, the Miami counsel for Altadis USA. 'Many of them aren't packed tightly enough, so the cigar feels uneven and lumpy. They might have veins or discoloration.'
 
The real cigars are usually all the same color, she added. They are lined up neatly in the box with all the rings at the same level on each cigar and facing out. Fakes are often of different colors, have loose-fitting rings and can sometimes appear splotchy or moldy.
 
Cigar makers have been turning to federal investigators after discovering that Florida state law usually meant only a slap on the wrist for convicted counterfeiters.
 
'Word quickly got out that the potential for an arrest was an acceptable cost of doing business,' said Chuck Grimes, an Altadis attorney in Norwalk, Connecticut. 'They might lose some inventory and have a little inconvenience, but they may be back in business pretty quickly.'
 
Federal law, however, imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years for a conviction on trafficking in counterfeit goods. In March, President George W. Bush signed into law a tough new anticounterfeiting measure that allows charges to be brought against people involved in any aspect of packaging and production, even if they did not possess the actual fake product itself.
 
 MIAMI Cigar aficionados beware: Those handmade Montecristos, Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas may not be the premium smokes they seem.
 
Law enforcement and cigar industry officials say counterfeiters are marketing millions of dollars in fake upscale cigars, some pretending to be authentic Cubans that are illegal to sell in the United States. A recent crackdown has uncovered several major counterfeit operations, including one in Miami that resulted in the seizure of more than $20 million in fake cigars, labels and packaging.
 
'The person that's hurt the most is the consumer,' said Theo Folz, president and chief executive officer of Altadis USA, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and is the world's largest maker and distributor of cigars. 'We have developed products and built up on image and built up an expectation among the consumers. Guys put their money down. They want the real thing.'
 
With its proximity to Cuba and the Caribbean and large population of Cuban expatriates, South Florida has become a national hotbed for cigar counterfeiters. U.S. and state law enforcement officials, at the request of Altadis, have made more than a dozen arrests over the past six months with investigators now focusing on higher- level organizers.
 
'We're getting into the bigger targets and the ones who try to conceal it better,' said an undercover U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, who agreed to be identified only as Ramon to protect his identity. 'I think there's a lot more. We have only gotten the lower-level guys.'
 
Still, what was seized late last year from several warehouses in Miami astounded both the police and industry officials. There were enough counterfeit cigar bands, boxes, cellophane and other materials for between 30 and 50 million cigars - sufficient to make a significant dent in the legitimate premium market.
 
'We've all gotten an appreciation that the counterfeiting problem is much greater than we thought it was,' said Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America in Washington.
 
According to U.S. government statistics, Americans smoked about 5.1 billion large cigars in 2005 and spent about $3.2 billion on all cigars. Of those, about 321 million were classified as premium - that is, they were handmade, usually of long tobacco filler instead of chopped tobacco, and retailed for at least $1 apiece. Such cigars can run upward of $30 each.
 
Altadis USA, a subsidiary of the Spanish tobacco giant Altadis, holds the trademark rights to many of the best- known Cuban cigar brands including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and H. Upmann. General Cigar, based in New York, holds the rights to Cohiba, Partagas, Macanudo and other premium brands.
 
Because cigars from communist Cuba cannot be sold legally in the United States, Altadis makes its Cuban heritage cigars marketed in this country in the Dominican Republic. The Spanish parent, however, can market the real Cuban cigars around the world under the same brands.
 
That means anyone who uses those brands to market a cigar as made in 'Habana' or as a 'Cuban replica' is either violating the U.S. embargo against Cuba or the trademark rights of Altadis, General Cigar and other companies. Altadis USA, which has 7,800 employees and had 2005 revenue of about $700 million, has been leading the charge against counterfeiters using its own private investigators to assist the police.
 
Customs agents say some of the fakes originate in Cuba itself, where workers at national cigar factories frequently steal labels, cigar rings and a special gold-embossed paper that makes them appear more real. Investigators have seized several shipments of this packaging sent by courier from Cuba through the Bahamas and on to South Florida.
 
Some counterfeiters simply make their own replica packaging at elaborate operations in the Miami area, where many Cuban-Americans have experience with cigars. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference in labels, experts said, but it is usually obvious which ones are fake to an experienced smoker.
 
'Many of the bad cigars have a bad odor,' said Leora Herrmann, the Miami counsel for Altadis USA. 'Many of them aren't packed tightly enough, so the cigar feels uneven and lumpy. They might have veins or discoloration.'
 
The real cigars are usually all the same color, she added. They are lined up neatly in the box with all the rings at the same level on each cigar and facing out. Fakes are often of different colors, have loose-fitting rings and can sometimes appear splotchy or moldy.
 
Cigar makers have been turning to federal investigators after discovering that Florida state law usually meant only a slap on the wrist for convicted counterfeiters.
 
'Word quickly got out that the potential for an arrest was an acceptable cost of doing business,' said Chuck Grimes, an Altadis attorney in Norwalk, Connecticut. 'They might lose some inventory and have a little inconvenience, but they may be back in business pretty quickly.'
 
Federal law, however, imposes a prison sentence of up to 10 years for a conviction on trafficking in counterfeit goods. In March, President George W. Bush signed into law a tough new anticounterfeiting measure that allows charges to be brought against people involved in any aspect of packaging and production, even if they did not possess the actual fake product itself.

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