Monday, September 19, 2011

40. TOBACCO INDUSTRY in the Philippines

SPUD MURPHY with interesting Poem
I am not a smoker but, I am fascinated with tobacco ephemera and collected Filipiniana cigar and cigarette related materials.  I am sharing these postcards and photos featuring the tobacco industry and the Filipino's love for cigars and cigarette over the years. The article “Cigars of the Philippines” below was written by Dan Mickelson.

Native Women smoking family cigars,
Tugegarao, Cagayan
It was the Filipinos that have made a success of one of the country's oldest continuous industries, that of tobacco cultivation. As it was in many Spanish colonies of the 16th to 19th centuries, tobacco was introduced in the Philippines from the New World early on. It was Magellan, in fact, who first brought tobacco to the islands, from his explorations in the Caribbean. The leaf quickly achieved popularity with the local populace, gaining entrance even to areas that the Spanish were unable to penetrate, most notably the largely Islamic island of Mindanao (whose leader at the time, Lapu-Lapu, expressed his opinion of the Spanish by relieving the itinerant Magellan of the rest of his life). And, like in other Spanish colonies, tobacco knowledge and skill passed easily through the Philippines as part of the international trade routes that the islands anchored.

Granma enjoying a Cigar

It was the involvement of two families, however, that nearly suffocated a strong and vibrant tobacco industry in the Philippines. The Hapsburgs and the Bourbons (who are remembered for a sweeping empire and a delightful beverage, respectively), as ruling families of Spain, were the originators of the Spanish government's tobacco monopoly, officially extended to the Philippines in the late 1700s. What had once been a booming business of international trade throughout Asia and Europe became severely restricted by the Spanish Crown. The monopoly generated such animosity among the locals, who almost universally used tobacco in one form or another, that the Catholic church was called upon to exert influence and encourage obeisance to the whims of the monarchy. Tobacco rose to such a prominent position in the mind of the Spanish Crown with respect to the Philippines that it may have encouraged Spain to attempt to hold on to the colony much longer than was financially advisable.

Germinal Cigar Factory
Filipina Cigar Smoker

What brought about the end of the Spanish tobacco monopoly in the Philippines may have been the demand for the tobacco itself. Smuggling of the high-quality Philippine produce was commonplace, as demand for quality tobacco rose throughout Asia and Europe. State-produced cigars became too expensive for the locals, and tobacco was diverted to illegal production for the local market. In some areas, cigars were so valuable as to be used in place of currency. In the face of a crumbling system of support and enforcement, the tobacco monopoly was officially abolished in 1881. As the ink was drying on the decree, a new Spanish company entered the Philippines, establishing La Compania General de Tobaccos de Filipinas. The first factory opened by this company, La Flor de la Isabela, is still the leader of cigar production on the Philippines.
A Filipina "Granny" (wearing an amulet) enjoying her Cigar, Cavite

Named for a tobacco growing region in which La Compania had farms, La Flor de la Isabela operated for the next 100 years as part of what was effectively a private monopoly of the tobacco industry in the Philippines. La Flor suffered through the late 1980s and early '90s, mainly from a faltering reputation and narrowing market penetration. In 1995 a drastic change was made, with the goal to resurrect a company with an unbelievably strong tradition.

Two Asian businessmen, local Roberto Ongpin and Hong Kong-based Robert Kuok, purchased 50 percent ownership of La Flor and assumed control of the business. Kuok - recently named by Forbes magazine as the shrewdest businessman in the world - and Ongpin are both prominent players in the Asian business community, and they have no intention of letting the Philippine cigar industry fatter in the face of a global boom.

Tobacco Plantation

Load of tobacco, Manila
A room in a Philippine cigar factory
Ifugao Belle Smoking Cigar
Family Smoking Together

Street Scene, Hagan, Oriental Mindoro
Employees & Management of LA NOBLEZA Cigar and Cigarette Manufacturing Co.


  1. Very informative. However some of the pictures (particularly of women and young girls smoking big tobaccos) are very disturbing...Was the practice deliberately encouraged by the Government then?

  2. Hi Talakito, At the turn-of-the-century smoking was encouraged by the government because they get big revenues from cigar and cigarette manufacturers. There was no age limit and everyone can smoke including children. Ed

  3. what a collection, the photos remind me of old days. thanks for the info and for the well taken cared photos.

  4. do you have a record who the founders/owners were of la germinal cigar were? thanks

  5. Hey

    I'm sure you've seen the story but I don't see any mention of the S. Frieder & Sons Cigar company (Manila Factory La Helena). They were the largest importers of Philippine tobacco to the US in the late '30s and worked with Pres. Manuel L. Quezon and US High Commissioner to bring hundreds of refugee Jews into the Philippines. We'll have a documentary on this early next year on US public television.

    Some of their brands I can see you already have: Tiona, El Javanesa, Neutrality. They also made Quintessa, National Speaker and (eventually) Habanello.

    Contact me and I'll give you a link to the preview that was just released in Israel.

  6. Thanks Terry for the information. Please share us the link so we can have a better overview about S. Frieder & Sons Cigar company.

  7. My dad once mentioned that he used to sell the "Felicitas" brand of cigarettes sometime late 1930's and early 1940's. They bought their stock from Divisoria in "bulk" and sold it at their neighborhood (Sampaloc, Manila) as a small business. Are you familiar with this brand?

    1. I think I have encountered that brand but I do not have that in my collection.

  8. Hi this is Winxel from GMA7. We would like to request your permission for free usage of the picture of the old tobacco factory for our program. We will put courtesy as gratitude every time the picture will be used. Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Winxel... sure you can use it just give credit to my Pinoy Kollektor website

  9. Hi Pinoy Kollektor,
    Please do some research on Tabacalera La Germinal as my dad is a 4th gen descendant of Don Jose Javier Gochioco, the second owner of the Cigar factory. And where was the plant located in Manila?