The interest in cigars is so great that tour groups are being organized from all parts of the US to visit cigar factories, many of which are located in the heart of Little Havana.
"The interest is incredible" says Virginia Reina, the supervisor of production at the Havana Sunrise factory on Flagler Street. "People are going mad over cigars".
One of these groups paid a visit this Saturday to five of the local factories where they saw cigars being made in the old world tradition. Many of the cigar rollers in the factories are exiled Cubans who are continueing the tradional methods of cigar rolling for over two centuries.
"This is a trmendously educational tour", said Steve Saka, the 31 year old New Hapmshire resident who organized the event. "We're learning how cigars are made and distributed, as well as uncovering some of the inside secrets & myths of cigar making"
The group is made up of 30 diverse people with a common thread of being cigar aficionados who met on the Internet newsgroup, alt.smokers.cigars.
Saka said it took weeks of organizing to put the event together, making decisions and arrangements for the visits; coordinating hotel rooms at the Airport Marriot, arranging for bus transportation, and meals. "And, we purchased many cigars; probably in excess of $10,000"
The group visited the factories of Padron, El Credito, and Havana Sunrise. The first two have been in operation for decades in Little Havana, while Havana Sunrise was founded in March by Pedro Bello, the son, and Carlos Beltran, 38 and 39 years old, respectively.
"The tradition of Cuba lives on" exclaimed Pedro Bello, the 68 year old father. "In the 30's and 40's, we were growing and harvensting tobacco in Las Villas and selling the tobacco for one centavo" Included in the visit to the factories, the group enjoyed lunch at La Carreta, on 8th Street, where they uncorked bottles of wine and smoked their cigars.
"This is one of the best events I've experienced" exclaimed Mike O'Connell, a California doctor who's been enjoying cigars for two and a half years. "I'm one of the few doctors who think smoking is good for your health" he joked.
The tour went on until late in the afternoon. On (Sunday) some of the group went to Heaven, an exclusive cigar club in Naples.
Saka, who has smoked cigars for six years says that his goal is to make the tour of Little Havana an annual event to promote the comraderie of cigar aficionados. "Litle Havana is a gold mine/mecca for cigar lovers" he said. "The cigar factories and workers here are a part of the culture, and exhibit the pride and honor of the people"
Over 40,000 cigar lover's a week visit the cigar page on the internet. The group's page can be seen on the internet at: http://cigargroup.com.