Imperial Brands PLC today announced the company’s plans to sell off its premium cigar assets. While the Bristol, UK-based company primarily deals with cigarettes (Winston, Salem, Kool, etc.), its premium cigar business is the largest in the world. This includes Altadis USA (makers of Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann, and many more), a 50-percent stake in Habanos S.A. (the Cuban-owned monopoly behind all Cuban-made brands), JR Cigar (the world’s second largest cigar retailer), two cigar factories (including Tabacalera de García, the world’s largest premium cigar factory), and Casa de Montecristo (a growing collection of up-scale cigar lounges).
As of today, a sale has not been announced, so it is unclear whether an agreement is underway or the company is simply making its intentions known. The decision is part of Imperial Brands’ $2.6 billion divestment program, a move that was first announced in 2018 and has yet to be met.
It is unclear who, if anyone, could take on such a massive operation, but speculation has been quick to include names such as Altria (owners of Nat Sherman), Scandinavian Tobacco Group (owners of General Cigar), Oettinger Davidoff AG, Swisher International (owners of Drew Estate), and even Cuba. There is also the possibility that the multiple facets of the company could be split up, allowing such companies to purchase the portions of the business that best meet their individual needs.
The announcement follows the Trump administration’s recent changes to the U.S. embargo against Cuba, allowing US citizens to file lawsuits against businesses (Cuban or non) that operate on land confiscated by the Cuban government throughout the communist takeover during the late ’50s and early ’60s. With Imperial Brands owning half of Cuba’s Habanos S.A., this could also have played a role in today’s announcement.
While little is certain at this point, one this is clear—large changes are underway for the future of the premium cigar market.