HAVANA - Boosted by growing demand from China, sales of Cuban cigars reached a record $537 million in 2018, a 7 percent increase over the previous year despite global laws against tobacco, the partially state-owned Habanos said Monday.
"China has surpassed France as the second biggest market for Habanos" behind Spain, said the cigar company's vice president Jose Maria Lopez Inchaurbe.
Sales in China grew by 55 percent with east Asia as a whole up nine percent, said Lopez.
Marketing manager Ernesto Gonzalez said the figures showed "the strength of our sales despite the difficulties faced during the year."
The French market was hit by a 17 percent increase in taxes on tobacco products, which meant Habanos had to push up its prices by eight to 10 percent, said Lopez.
Gonzalez said the impressive figures came despite the global luxury tobacco market growing by just one percent in 2018.
Unlike in Europe, sales in China have not been affected by toughening anti-tobacco laws.
"The tobacco market regulatory environment is getting increasingly complicated," said Lopez.
The growth also comes despite the continuing embargo on Cuban products being sold in the hugely lucrative US market.
Habanos is half-owned by Spanish tobacco firm Altadis, which is itself the property of British giant Imperial Brand.
In 2017, Habanos saw sales grow by 12 percent to reach a then-record $500 million, again pushed by a huge upsurge in Chinese demand.