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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

From Havanas to Davidoffs, Shops Offer Stogies to Savor

In a world increasingly hostile to smokers, Moscow is a refuge, a place where one can light up with impunity. But for a long time that freedom was restricted by a lack of decent tobacco products.

That, of course, has changed in recent years as virtually every kiosk boasts a wide selection of cheap imported cigarettes. But cigars, touted by tobacco lovers as the Rolls Royce of addictive nicotine products, were an entirely different story: hard to find, of mixed quality and often overpriced.

The cigar scene has improved somewhat, but the choice is still slim, according to those who would rather quit cigars than move to something else.

"There is no way I could switch over to cigarettes," said Christopher Roessink, a Spaniard who himself works for a cigar company in Moscow. "Cigars give you a completely natural taste -- there aren't any chemical additives, paper or sugar involved. Besides, they are a lot healthier."

So where does a devoted cigar-smoking person go? Most Moscow kiosks do sell a couple of cigar brands, often the Dutch-made Caf? Creme usually selling for about 11,000 rubles ($2.10) a pack. The Caf? Creme filter tip goes for about 13,000 rubles and the Caf? Creme Noir costs about 15,000 rubles. All of the Caf? line of cigars come in packs of 10.

For a wider selection of cigars -- also called stogies -- check out the General Cigar Company (Tel. 208-9912) at 4 Prospekt Mira. Although the shop started in 1991, it is known mainly to cigar afficionados. The management said they prefer to rely on a select clientele and the internet for advertising.

General Cigar stocks about 120 kinds of stogies from Cuba, the United States and the Dominican Republic. Prices range from the super expensive -- 600,000 rubles for a box of 10 Davidoffs -- to the positively proletarian, American-made Robert Burns which go for $45.75 for 20 cigars.

General Cigar offers a healthy selection of moderately-priced, American-made cigars like the King Edward ($2.60), Swisher Sweets ($3.58), Bering ($9.10), Hav-a-tampa ($2.86) and White Owl ($2.20). The preceding prices are for packs of five, but the same brands are available in bigger boxes.

For Americans, who have a hard time getting Cuban stogies in their motherland, General's selection of Cuban cigars is a treat. Prices for the typically powerful cigars start here at 250,000 rubles for a box and go up to 1 million rubles. All Cuban cigars are sold in boxes of 25. Popular brands of high-priced Havanas are Bolivars which go for 800,000 rubles, Partagas at 700,000 and Punch Churchill at a cost of 635,000 rubles.

To a client inquiring about cigars for women, Andrei the shop's manager who declined to give his last name, recommended dainty Tijuanas, priced at $1.80 for a pack of 10. Though not specifically meant for ladies, this particular brand is gentle on delicate female throats, a saleswoman explained. While Andrei said few women frequent the shop, men of all stripes are customers.

"We get all kinds of people here -- New Russians, foreigners and your average man off the street," said Andrei, who estimated that expatriates, chiefly Greeks, Italians, Spaniards and Germans, account for about half of the store's patrons.

Andrei added that customers favored Havanas despite their high prices. "If a guy wants a cigar and has money, well he's going to buy the best."

For the cigar connoisseur, General also stocks accessories like lighters, snippers and cigar cases. The steel snippers -- or gillotiny -- cost between 240,000 and 345,000 rubles. Plain black cigar cases go for 150,000 rubles while humidors cost 695,000 rubles. Of course, any cigar is useless without a light, so to round off the day's purchases, there are lighters starting at 300,000 rubles. While the cigar selection at General is perhaps the best in the city, shoppers should be beware of the pipes which tend to be overpriced and of middling quality.

Aside from the General Cigar Company, cigar lovers may also want to visit one of Moscow's four K Boutiques (Tel. 956-3152), which sell jewelry and clothes as well and are located in the Palace, Marco Polo, Aerostar and Sofitel Hotels. These are the places to find the Swiss-made Davidoff line of cigars. Prices for the bright and lively tasting cigars, which contain Dominican tobacco, vary from $9 per cigar to $21 each. Ornate cigar cases cost between $124 and $230. Deluxe snippers start at $770, and buyers can expect to pay $500 for the K Boutiques' steel- and gold-plated lighters. The stores also have ceramic and crystal ashtrays (costing $244 and $757 respectively) and humidors starting at $570.

Though the prices at K Boutiques could put off the thrifty customer, some say paying more money here could get you a better smoke. "Sure, the prices are higher," said Geoffrey Carr-Harris, head of the firm that owns the boutiques and a long-time Davidoff smoker. "But you may be sure these cigars are fresh because they are properly shipped and always stored in humidors." He said that staleness was generally a problem with most other cigar brands sold in Moscow.

One other outlet for Havanas are the city's Cuban restaurants. Aruba (Tel. 912-1836) sells Romeo y Julietta stogies for $9 each and Cohiba cigars for $6 apiece. The Guantanamera (Tel. 912-6242) stocks two kinds of Cohibas at $10 per cigar, Romeo y Julietta and Monte Cristo go for $8.

Fans of Spanish cigars may also have cause to celebrate. The Spanish cigar giant Tabacalera is planning to open retail outlets in Moscow soon, said Roessink, the firm's representative in Moscow.

"Cigars are going to be big business in Russia," predicted Roessink who plans to someday kick off a Moscow campaign with the Faria and Mini Monte Cristo line of cigars. "There are plenty of people in Russia who can afford to buy good cigars."