Desmond Boylan

HAVANA —Cuba's most prestigious international cigar festival brought together some 900 cigar enthusiasts from all over the world last week to celebrate the island's famous tobacco.

Cigar enthusiast Luann Parker of the U.S. smokes at XVIII Havana Cigar Festival in Havana.
Desmond Boylan

The festival, now in it’s 18th annual celebration, is traditionally a male-dominated event. But not everyone puffing on a puro is a whiskered and hoary old revolutionary type. This year's festival also attracted a sizable number of women who competed with their male counterparts in cigar competitions such as the "longest ash," which is the annual highlight of the event.

Cigar enthusiast Elisabeth Oquendo of Colombia smokes at XVIII Havana cigar Festival in Havana.
Desmond Boylan

This year's longest ash contest drew several dozen female contestants, who were determined to give the men a run for their money.

A Cuban woman smokes a cigar at the longest ash contest
Desmond Boylan

Moments before the contest started, the women jockeyed with men for a space in line outside the Palacio de Convenciones in Havana. When the doors finally opened, everyone rushed in a find a seat in front of a cigar cutter, a lighter, a glass of Cuban rum, and a bottle of mineral water.

Smoking is bad for everyone's health, but that doesn't stop people from enjoying Cuba's finest
Desmond Boylan

Waiters made the rounds filling glasses as officials handed out the cigars. Then clouds of smoke filled the room, as contestants tilted their heads back and held their cigars upright in an attempt to form the longest ash. As in past years, a group of Chinese and Asian cigar fanatics competed eagerly, with some getting sick and throwing up all over the tables and floor.

Cigar aficionado Francis Sierra Gomez, 22, of Cuba competes at the longest ash contest
Desmond Boylan

An official made his way around the room and whispered encouraging words to participants. "Take it easy; it's not about speed, inhale slowly. If you don't feel well, there are doctors ready if you feel dizzy. Please let us know if you feel dizzy."

Couples that smoke together stay together, and cough together
Desmond Boylan

The winner of the longest ash contest is determined by measuring the remaining butt of the cigar immediately after the ash falls off.

A woman finishes her cigar after dropping out of the longest ash contest
Desmond Boylan

Unfortunately, none of the woman competing in this year's festival finished among the top finalists for the longest ash contest, which was won by a British national. But there's always next year.

It's all about patience, pacing and balance
Desmond Boylan