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Up in smoke: Long-ash contest at Cuba cigar fest

HAVANA (AP) - Pungent smoke filled the room, obscuring the lights and leaving clothing and skin reeking. There were applause, shouts and laughter, and above all plenty of H. Upmann Sir Winstons - formidable 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) Cuban cigars.

More than 450 stogie aficionados took part in an unusual contest Thursday at Havana's annual marquee Cigar Festival: competing to see who could create the longest unbroken ash.

"I love it," Argentine sommelier Flavio Lanfredi said good-naturedly despite falling out of contention early on. "For me this is like going to Mecca, or a kid entering a toy store and they tell you to grab whatever you want, it's yours. It's really exciting."

In a cavernous room in Havana's Palace of Conventions, contestants exhaled clouds of smoke and handled their cigars gingerly to keep the gray ash intact as long as possible. They lolled on luxurious leather chairs set amid tables holding dozens of ashtrays, lighters, chocolate-flavored hard candy and snifters of aged Cuban rum.

Many, like Lanfredi, lost their ashes before smoking even halfway through. Others managed to keep going until their cigars were little more than tiny stubs.

"It was a little bit stressful, and I'm somewhat dizzy," said Cuban restaurateur Andres Espinosa, one of the better finishers with a 6.2-inch (15.8-cm) ash.

Just over a half-hour in, only a handful of finalists remained. Judges milled about the room handing out rulers to measure the results.

The winner was to be announced Friday.

It would be hard to top Olivia Terri, also from Cuba, who smoked her Sir Winston down to a stub with an ash that grew to 6.6 inches (16.7 cm) before it crumbled.

The Sir Winston is a chubby cigar with a rich brown color and a hint of toasted gold. It's hand-rolled with a selection of tobacco leaves from the western province of Pinar del Rio, the cradle of Cuba's tobacco country.

The event was both a light-hearted competition and also an exhibition calculated to show off Cuba's premium tobacco, which is among the most coveted in the world. Some 1,500 smokers from 80 countries are attending the weeklong festival.

"This (contest) in particular is aimed at people being able to appreciate the quality of our product," said Ana Lopez, marketing director for Habanos SA, a Cuban-British joint company that produces and distributes Cuban cigars exclusively. "Only products of magnificent quality can make the ash take on a permanent consistency for a long time."

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Hi-It's Nick!! February 28 2014 at 11:00 AM

Great cigar smokers but it's also a testimony of the cigars produced!!

I'll have to have my own perosnal contest to what I can do.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Bill February 28 2014 at 9:53 AM

It's bad when Totalitarian Communist Cuba has more smoking freedoms than NY City.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
fred February 28 2014 at 9:54 AM

Monica would have won IF she had been there......:)

Flag Reply +4 rate up
eltrip February 28 2014 at 11:55 AM

Reminds me of a Winston Churchill story of how he put a straight pin in his cigar to keep the ash from falling off during an opponents speech in Parliament. Everyone was so distracted by the length of his ash no one was listening to the opponent's speech...

Flag Reply +4 rate up
rwpowell59 February 28 2014 at 11:49 AM

I like many others wait for this long over due embargo to be lifted so I like many others can enjoy this beautiful country that is right next door to ours

Flag Reply +5 rate up
kenoverbaugh February 28 2014 at 11:19 AM

ok denadmartinez...get off the cross before the nails get rusty....and until you have no vices yourself, leave the rest of the world alone! Now with that said, you sure you don't want to go to McDonald's for lunch and get a Big Mac meal with a DIET Coke?

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1 reply
kvave kenoverbaugh February 28 2014 at 11:21 AM

Just had one the other day , and it was good. Take your TOFU RULES n stick em

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Hello Joe February 28 2014 at 11:16 AM

The only thing that the embargo is doing is keeping us from getting some great cigars legally. It's time to lift the embargo.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
davjowett Hello Joe February 28 2014 at 11:23 AM


Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
davjowett davjowett February 28 2014 at 11:24 AM

You can order Cubans from CIGAR CHIEF they have a great selection. I don't work for them I am a customer.

Flag 0 rate up
kvave February 28 2014 at 11:18 AM

And the Lady in the cover picture .............looks like she knows what shes doing with that nice , long ash too :)

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BUZO JOE February 28 2014 at 11:15 AM

I would love to have a place where I can relax and enjoy a cigar. Instead I'm forced to stroll the sidewalks of my little town 'offending' other pedestrians. Do I care? NO. I relish in the pleasure of reminding them it's their own fault cigar lounges are illegal in my town.

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2 replies
kvave BUZO JOE February 28 2014 at 11:19 AM

As I light my Cigarette , I smile , and dare the "Vegetable , Tofu Nazis" to TRY and take away my Lifes Pleasures

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1 reply
ripstercharters kvave February 28 2014 at 11:23 AM

enjoy the but while your slowly painfully rotting away from cancer. It'll be well worth it though. NOT.

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cervezabeer BUZO JOE February 28 2014 at 11:23 AM

Right on ,give it to them Joe!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
BUZO JOE February 28 2014 at 11:11 AM

What an awesome event (the whole event). I'm jealous because I live in the cigar-hater state of Washington. We have plenty of casinos where cigarettes are fine but cigar smoking is prohibited. Go figure.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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