...the joy of smoking rolled tobacco leaves began in the Americas hundreds of years ago and was introduced to Europeans after Christopher Columbus' return from his first voyage in 1492.
Since then, the cigar has become perfected and has experienced peaks and valleys in popularity. This Cigar Primer is a starting point for those seeking to understand cigar history, the health risks of cigars, how to select and enjoy cigars and much more.
For many, cigar history began when Christopher Columbus found Cuba during his first voyage in October 1492 and sent two men – Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres - to explore the island and meet with the natives. They introduced the Spaniards to the after-dinner practice of inhaling the smoke of burned leaves into the nose through a Y-shaped device called a “tobacco.”
The leaves and the “pipe” were taken back to Spain and over the next two centuries, the process was refined into the cigar we know today, produced primarily in Seville, Spain under monopoly of the Spanish Crown. Although there was tobacco grown on other Caribbean islands by the mid-1500s, Cuba was well established as the headquarters of the tobacco trade and cigars produced there carried the same notoriety they do today.
Cigars continued to be made in other places, of course, and in the 20th Century, American consumers primarily enjoyed domestic cigars with some higher-end brands imported mostly from Cuba. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy imposed a ban on Cuban products in February 1962, the door was opened for producers from other countries. Cuba retains its tradition in cigars, but the sale of products from Cuba continues to be illegal in the United States. Today, American consumers enjoy machine-made cigars manufactured in the U.S. and premium (handmade) cigars made in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Indonesia, among others.
Cigars and Health
Any discussion of cigars and health risks must start with the statement that cigars, made up of rolled tobacco leaves, are a much different product than cigarettes, in which the tobacco is chopped, treated and packaged by machines inside paper wrappers. The health impacts of cigarettes are well documented and cigars, while posing a substantially smaller health risk, can also cause problems if abused.
In specific, it is critical (1) not to inhale and (2) to control how much time a cigar spends in the smoker’s mouth. The less time, the better!
All commentators on cigars urge smokers to enjoy cigars as they would a fine wine or spirit: sip it to enjoy the flavor, but refrain from guzzling! Smoke slowly and keep the cigar away from your lips when you are not actually drawing on it (no respectable smoker ever takes a “hit” on a cigar). This will increase your enjoyment of the flavor and aroma and reduce the chance of turning your cigar into chewing tobacco (a la James Whitmore as Sgt. Kinnie in the 1949 Battle of the Bulge drama “Battleground”), the source of most problems for cigar smokers. Puff, don’t chew!
Studies of cigar smoking are far fewer than those on cigarettes a few important reports are worth noting:
1998: The National Cancer Institute Monograph on cigars:
Tobacco critics will insist that tobacco users are poisoning themselves, yet statistics from the American Chemical Society note that only 25% of (overwhelmingly cigarette) smokers develop lung cancer. Moreover, in the National Cancer Institute’s Monograph 9: Cigars – Health Effects and Trends (1998) – which is a review of other studies – shows just how “deadly” cigars are . . . and aren’t.
The NCI Monograph in Chapter 4 includes Table 3, which compares the rate of death between smokers and non-smokers. Non-smokers are presumed to have a rate of 1.0.
Cigar smokers who smoked an average of 1-2 cigars per day had an overall death-due-tosmoking rate of just 1.02 or 2% more than non-smokers. With a likely error rate of 5% (known in the medical statistics community as the “confidence interval”), this means that – statistically speaking – there’s essentially no difference in risk between cigars smokers of 1-2 cigars per day and non-smokers.
Even cigar smokers who consumed an average of 3-4 cigars per day had a death rate of just 1.08, or 8% higher than non-smokers and for those who smoked five or more per day (has to be machine-mades, don’t you think?), the rate was only 1.17 or 17% higher.
These rates can be compared for impact to cigarette smokers to show how low the death rate for cigar smokers is.
Cigarette users who smoked 20 cigarettes a day – that’s a pack a day – had an overall death ratio of 1.69, or 69% higher than non-smokers. The death rate was higher at younger ages: 2.45 or 145% higher for those aged 35-49 and 2.15 or 115% higher for those aged 50-64. After that, the death rate drops off.
The Statistical Research and Applications Branch of the National Cancer Institute through its Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program’s DevCan database:
The SEER chart for the overall probability of dying from cancer in the U.S. for registries reporting from 2001-2003 showed that:
From age 35-50, the probability of dying from cancer was 0.18% to 0.94%; not very high.
From age 50-65, the probability ranged from 0.94% to 4.70%, still not much.
From age 65-80, the probability rose from 4.70% to 13.97% and above age 80, the probability of dying from cancer rose from 13.97% to 21.40% for those over age 95.
Now these figures include both smokers (than about 22% of the population) and non-smokers (about 78% of the population), so the figures are a little too high for non-smokers and a little too low for smokers. But given the 8-to-2 ratio of non-smokers to smokers, the overall difference is not very great. If we apply the death ratios from the NCI’s Monograph data above, check out these actual probabilities for dying from cancer:
For those aged 35-50, the overall average was 0.18 to 0.94%, but for cigar smokers consuming 1-2 cigars a day, it’s less at about 0.13 to 0.68%! According to the statistics, you’re better off smoking!
For pack-a-day cigarette smokers aged 35-50, the probability of dying is about 0.44 to 2.30% That’s not 44%, that’s less than one-half of one percent, up to 2.3% in this age group. Not very high, is it?
For those aged 50-64, the overall probability of dying from cancer is 0.94 to 4.7%. For cigar smokers consuming 1-2 cigars a day, the death probability is 1.03% to 5.17%, a little higher, but hardly an epidemic. For pack-a-day cigarette smokers aged 50-64, the probability of death is 2.02 to 10.1%, a little more than twice as high. But if “Smoking Kills” as the British “warning” labels suggest, how come only 2-10% will die in this mid-age range when non-smokers die at a rate of about 1-4.7%?
For those aged 65-80, the overall probability of dying from cancer gets serious, at 4.7% to 13.97% overall. For the cigar smoker of 1-2 cigars a day, there’s essentially no difference as the death ratio is within the margin of error. Cigar enthusiasts like George Burns and Winston Churchill are the most famous examples of smokers who, as Burns liked to joke, outlived their doctors. For pack-a-day cigarette users, the probability of death from 65-80 ranges from 7.99% at age 65 up to 23.75% or almost a quarter of the population. However, note that at age 80, about 14% of non-smokers are dying as well! This is hardly the mass death rate we would expect, especially considering that the average lifespan in the U.S. reached 77.5 years as of 2003.
Past age 80, the relative risks of smoking decline as the chances of contracting cancer among the general population increases markedly. The probability of death via cancer among nonsmokers starts at 13.97% at age 80 and over 95, the probability is 21.40%. For cigar smokers of 1-2 cigars a day, the figures are the same or less, and are less for smokers of 3-4 cigars as day as well!
For pack-a-day cigarette smokers, the probability of dying from cancer is still greater than for cigar smokers or non-smokers, at 18.02 to 27.61%, again hardly an epidemic.
What does all this tell us? It says that there are risks in everyday life and there are risks in using tobacco. But they are hardly the plague, which infects people in 2-6 days and if left untreated, will kill an infected person within a couple of weeks. We live in a society which is rife with hyperbole. Just as the cigarette companies went way too far in their claims concerning the health impact of cigarettes in the 20th Century, now the antitobacco zealots hype the danger from smoking to scare as many people as possible into not smoking.
2006: The Curie University Study on Inhalation:
A group of French medical researchers from Curie University in Paris completed a study of the effects of inhalation in tobacco use, published in issue 54 of Lung Cancer in the fall of 2006. A group of 30 non-smokers, 30 cigar and/or pipe smokers and 28 cigarette smokers were put through a series of tests to discover the conditions under which tobacco smoke of various kinds morph into carcinogens. Information from the subjects in this admittedly small sample was gleaned primarily from urinalysis. The researchers were looking for a human protein called Cytochrome P450-1A, a critical enzyme in the conversion of tobacco smoke to carcinogens. The findings showed that:
Cigarette smokers had a Cytochrome P450-1A2 “activity ratio” as measured in a caffeine test of 0.61 as compared with 0.34 for non-smokers, a 79% difference. But cigar and pipe smokers had an activity ratio of just 0.27, which the researchers dismissed as “not differ[ing] significantly.”
...Say what? It’s 25% less!
What all this means was correctly summarized by the researchers, that:
“Cigarette smoking was the only independent predictor of Cytochrome P450-1A2 activity in smokers.”
They further noted, however, that:
“Inhalation behavior, rather than the type of tobacco smoked, may be the key factor linked to the extent of tobacco exposure and Cytochrome P450-1A2 induction.”
The study, although using a very small sample, underlined the vast difference between cigar/pipe and cigarette smokers.
A side aspect of the study was the calculation of Cotinine values, a test used to determine whether a person has smoked tobacco. Cotinine markers are left by nicotine as it passes through the body and non-smokers should have Cotinine values in urine of less than 10 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), from 11-30 ng/mL for light smokers or those with moderate exposure to secondhand smoke and above that for heavy (pack a day or more) smokers up to about 500 ng/mL, according to the Foundation for Blood Research.
The study furthered showed that:
Non-smokers with Cotinine levels close to zero, while cigar/pipe smokers (11 of the 30 were prior cigarette smokers) had a median level of 24.4 and a low of 5.3! Cigarette smokers ranged from a low of 72.6 to 119.4 with the median at 91.7. Thus the smoking “mark” left in cigar and pipe smokers, under this study, wasn’t more than would be expected from someone who didn’t smoke and had “moderate passive exposure” as classified by the Foundation for Blood Research.
It’s another indication that the differences between cigar and pipe smokers and cigarette users are more than stylistic. Even in the eyes of the medical research community, the difference is real and dramatic. Just don’t inhale!
Before getting into how to smoke a cigar, what goes into cigars? The answer to this question is the key to assessing the quality of a specific cigar. All but the thinnest cigars include three elements:
The filler tobacco at the center.
A binder leaf which holds the filler together
The outer wrapper, which is rolled around the binder.
For beginning cigar smokers, it’s critical to identify the difference between handmade and machine-made cigars. Cigars which are made by hand generally use “long filler” tobacco: leaves which run the length of a cigar. In a handmade, the filler, binder and wrapper are combined manually to create a cigar.
Machine-made cigars utilize high-speed machinery to combine “short filler” tobacco - usually scraps or pieces of tobacco - with a binder and wrapper. Because of the tension placed on the tobacco by the machines, the binders and wrappers are often made of a homogenized tobacco product which is stronger than natural leaves and can be produced in a variety of flavors, strengths and textures.
A few brands combine machine-bunching (using long-filler tobacco) with hand-rolled wrappers; this practice has been very properly dubbed “hand-rolled” as opposed to handmade by cigar expert Rick Hacker in The Ultimate Cigar Book. And some larger cigars use “mixed” or “combination” filler of long-filler and short-filler tobaccos.
The quality of the tobaccos and more importantly, how they are blended, determines the quality of the smoking experience. In the filler, “ligero” leaves which provide power are blended with “seco” leaves with a milder flavor and “volado” which helps to ensure an even burn. These are combined with a binder and wrapper to provide a balanced flavor.
Is there anything other than tobacco in a premium, handmade cigar? Yes. A tiny bit of gum, often gum tragacanth (sap from a gum tree) is applied to seal the wrapper. It’s a tasteless and safe form of dietary fiber keeps the cigar together until you can enjoy it!
Types of Tobacco
Cigars seem to incorporate a dizzying array of tobaccos, but in fact, the range – from a scientific standpoint – is quite small. Steve Saka’s brilliant article, “Black Tobacco” in the Spring 2006 issue of Cigar Magazine notes the origins and history of what is now cigar tobacco:
Tobacco originated in South America in the mountainous Andes region of what is now Ecuador and Peru. Part of the Solanaceae family, which also includes eggplant, petunias, potatoes and tomatoes, scientists have specified 66 types of tobacco, only two of which are smokable. These types of tobacco have been cultivated since perhaps 5000 B.C.E. The two smokable types of tobacco were named by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in 1753 as Nicotiana rustica Linnaeus and Nicotiana tabacum Linnaeus. The Nicotiana tabacum type is the one we know today that is used for almost all smoking tobacco. Within the Nicotiana tabacum family, there are multiple sub-species, including blonde, burley and Oriental that are fire-cured or flue-cured and used for cigarettes and black, which is air-cured and used for cigars.
And Saka notes that “While black tobaccos can be grown almost anywhere, they typically thrive in a sandy loam of volcanic soil in a hot, humid climate. Their leaves’ robust flavors, aromas and nicotine content maker them suitable for smoking without inhalation; their smoke is to be enjoyed for its taste and aroma alone.”
What about the different kinds of tobacco grown for cigars today? Saka lists five basic types from five different regions, noting that the wide experimentation with tobacco has led to literally thousands of individual strains of black tobacco:
Bahia: This is grown in Brazil and is one of the oldest native-seed tobaccos.
Broadleaf: Widely grown, especially in the U.S., this style resulted from the migration of natives from the Andes area into North America.
Habanesis Hybrids: These styles developed from seeds brought to Cuba from Mexico in 1534 and form the base of the “Cuban seed” tobacco family.
San Andres Negro: Planted in Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs.
Sumatran: Originally planted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra from seeds brought by Dutch explorer and traders of the 1500s.
Within these varieties, there has been endless experimentation and development of the types of tobacco (some of which have the same names as those listed above) we know today:
Arapiraca: Grown in Brazil from the Bahia type.
Besuki: Grown in the Jember region of Java in Indonesia. Saka notes that there are two types of Besuki: “Vroege oogst” (VO) which is Dutch for “early harvest” and “No oogst” (NO) or “late harvest.”
Broadleaf: Grown in the Windsor, Connecticut area since being brought to the area by B.P. Barbour in 1833. It’s sun-grown and stalk-cut and is one of the most popular leaves used for maduro wrappers.
Cameroon: Planted in that West African country beginning in the 1950s by Jean Masseran of France’s SEITA and revived in the 1990s by the late Rick Meerapfel of CETAC. Saka reports that in 2003, Cameroon tobacco was planted outside the country for the first time, in Ecuador.
Connecticut Shade: Grown in the Connecticut River Valley for wrapper, mostly under shade (hence the term, “Connecticut Shade”) since its development in 1906.Seeds of this style have been widely planted and cultivated elsewhere, especially in Ecuador and Honduras.
Connecticut Sun-Grown: Is, in fact, grown in Connecticut and traces its lineage back to Cuba of the 1870s. Saka writes that this style is also called “Havana Seed” and “Medio Tiempo.”
Corojo:A style of tobacco created by the Cubans in the 1940s from breeding of Criollo plants at the El Corojo Vega and grown in Cuba for wrapper until 1997. It was replaced by more disease-resistant types in Cuba, but is widely planted in Honduras, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
Corojo 99: Developed in Cuba for wrapper leaf in 1999, but also widely planted in Ecuador and elsewhere.
Criollo: Referring to “native-seed” tobaccos in any location; the Cubans referred to the tobacco grown on their island as “Criollo” and the specific strain we know as Criollo today was developed there in 1941. It’s also grown in other countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua.
Criollo 98/Criollo 99: Both developed in Cuba as more disease-resistant version of the standard Cuban Criollo plant. The C98 is also planted in Honduras and Nicaragua today.
Habana 2000: Developed in Cuba in 1992 to be more resistant to disease than the Corojo it was designed to replace, this style found favor when planted by Nestor Plasencia, Sr. in Nicaragua in 1996. It’s widely used for wrapper today. It is also planted in Honduras and Mexico.
Isabela: Grown in the Philippines and quite mild.
Mata Fina/Mata Norte/Mata Sul: All grown in Brazil from the Bahia type.
Olor: Native to the Dominican Republic and quite mild.
Piloto Cubano: Grown in the Dominican Republic in many varieties. Saka reports that Carlos Torano, Sr. is widely credited with being the first to plant tobacco in the Cibao Valley of the Dominican Republic with seeds brought from Cuba after he left in 1960.
San Andres: Grown in Mexico from ancient seeds in the San Andres Valley. This type of tobacco is also grown in Costa Rica.
San Vicente: Grown in the Dominican Republic, reportedly from seeds from the San Vicente farm in Cuba and less powerful in flavor and aroma than Piloto Cubano.
Sumatra: Originally from Indonesia but now widely planted elsewhere, notably in Ecuador and Mexico.
Tembakau Bawah Naungan or TBN: Developed in the 1980s and grown under shade in Indonesia for wrappers. It’s a crossbreed of the Besuki and Connecticut styles.
Vorstenlanden: Grown in Indonesia on the island of Java. Wrapper leaf shade-grown from this seed is also known as VBN.
Experimentation continues worldwide with tobacco. A lively leaf developed in Peru by Altadis U.S.A. is becoming popular for filler and a project in Costa Rica at the Tabacos de la Cordillera complex is planting tobaccos from ancestral seeds from Cuba from the 1940s and 1950s!
However, as Saka writes, “While uniformity is the norm in other tobacco varieties, uniqueness is the trademark of black tobaccos. The same exact black tobacco seed grown in two different locales results in plants that, while similar, are oftentimes drastically different in flavor, body and aroma. The difference between a seed grown in the sun-bright tropics of Indonesia versus the same seed grown in the cloud-covered valleys of Ecuador is vast. For all practical purposes, they are two entirely different black tobaccos, to the point that it is hard to believe they come from the same seed strain. These wide-ranging differences do not require the separation of continents to be apparent; vegueros will often remark how the exact same tobacco grown on one side of the road is different than the leaf grown on the other.”
Selection: Colors, Shapes, and Sizes
Colors and Wrappers: The most obvious characteristic of most cigars is the color of the exterior wrapper. Whether a green Candela wrapper or a dark Maduro-wrapped cigar, the cigar wrapper is an important element and a key in many people's purchase of specific cigars. Although manufacturers have identified more than 100 different wrapper shades, they can be grouped into seven major color classifications, as noted below:
Double Claro: Also known as “American Market Selection” [AMS] or “Candela,” this is a green wrapper. Once popular, it is rarely found today.
Claro: This is a very light tan color, almost beige in shade; often grown in Connecticut or from Connecticut seeds in Ecuador.
Colorado Claro: A medium brown found on many cigars, this category covers many descriptions. The most popular are “Natural” or “English Market Selection” [EMS]. Tobaccos in this shade are grown in many countries.
Colorado: This shade is instantly recognizable by the obvious reddish tint.
Colorado Maduro: Darker than Colorado Claro in shade, this color is often associated with African tobacco, such as wrappers from Cameroon, or with Havana Seed tobacco grown in Honduras or Nicaragua.
Maduro: Very dark brown to almost black. Tobacco for Maduro wrappers is primarily grown in Connecticut, Mexico, Nicaragua and Brazil. These dark wrappers – which usually offer a sweeter taste – are usually created by leaving leaves on the plant longer and then curing them for longer periods, but there are some who take shortcuts and boil or “cook” leaves to create the dark shade.
Oscuro: This is black . . . really black. This shade of wrapper reappeared with more frequency in 2001 after being almost off the market in the 1990s.
Sometimes manufacturers will create cigars with more than one wrapper! The forms can be strange and include:
Barber Poles and Candy Canes: These are cigars with two or three wrappers that are rolled so that the different colors are shown to look like a barber’s pole! The type of cigar was introduced into the American market by Kretek International in 1996 as the Hugo Cassar Diamond Dominican Mystique, using a lightcolored Connecticut Shade wrapper and a dark Dominican brewleaf for a unique effect.
Tres Capas: In 2004, a tri-colored cigar was introduced by Felipe Gregorio Tobacco World. Called the “Tres Capas,” it showcased a light-colored Connecticut leaf, a dark Indonesian-grown leaf and a candela-colored Nicaraguan-grown wrapper!
Dual Wrapper: Other manufacturers have introduced unique cigar models which use different wrappers for different parts of the cigar! The Honduran-made Black Pearl Black & Tab Shorts debuted in 2004 and the cigar features a light-colored Ecuadorian leaf and a maduro-colored Honduran leaf over one-half of the cigar.
Ligero Mysterio: In 2006, Litto Gomez introduced the La Flor Dominicana Ligero Mysterio, a seven-inch-long perfecto wrapped primarily with a Nicaraguan leaf, but with each end wrapped with Connecticut Broadleaf!
Shapes and Sizes:
There are cigars of every shape and every size for every occasion. From tiny, cigarette-like cigarillos to giant monsters resembling pool cues, there is a wide variety to choose from. Certain sizes and shapes which have gained popularity over the years and have become widely recognized, even by non-smokers. Cigar shape names such as “corona” or “panatela” have specific meanings to the cigar industry, although there is no formally agreed-to standard for any given size. The following table lists 20 well-known shapes, and is adapted from Paul Garmirian's explanation of sizes in The Gourmet Guide to Cigars. The “classical” measurements for which this shape is known are given, along with a size and girth range for each size for classification purposes:
Lngth. X Ring
|Length Range||Ring Gauge|
|Giant||9 X 52||8 & up||50 & up|
|Double Corona||7 3⁄4 X 49||6 3⁄4-7 3⁄4||49-54|
|Churchill||7 X 47||6 3⁄4 -7 7⁄8||46-48|
|Pyramid||7 X 36-54||all||flared|
|Torpedo||6 3⁄4 X 52||all||tapered|
|Toro||6 X 50||6 5⁄8 X 5⁄8||48-54|
|Robusto||5 X 50||4 1⁄2-4 1⁄2||48-54|
|Grand Corona||6 1⁄2 X 46||5 5⁄8-6 5⁄8||45-47|
|Corona Extra||51⁄2 X 46||41⁄2-51⁄2||45-47|
|Giant Corona||71⁄2 X 44||71⁄2 & up||42-45|
|Lonsdale||61⁄2 X 42||61⁄2-71⁄4||40-44|
|Long Corona||6 X 42||57⁄8-63⁄8||40-44|
|Corona||51⁄2 X 42||51⁄4-53⁄4||40-44|
|Petite Corona||5 X 42||4-5||40-44|
|Long Panatela||71⁄2 X 38||7 & up||35-39|
|Panatela||6 X 38||51⁄2-67⁄8||35-39|
|Short Panatela||5 X 38||4-53⁄8||35-39|
|Slim Panatela||6 X 34||5 & up||30-34|
|Small Panatela||5 X 33||4-5||30-34|
|Cigarillos||4 X 26||6 & less||29 & less|
Most of the “classical” measurements come from the factory sizes prescribed for specific shapes made in Cuba. However, don’t be confused if cigars which are sized as Churchills are called “Double Coronas” or something else. Manufacturers are not at all careful about what they call their cigars. One example: the Royal Corona or Rothschild title is seen less and less on cigars now known as “Robustos.” This change has been rapid since about 1990, but some manufacturers still label their shorter, thicker cigars as Rothschilds or even as a “Rothchild” (an incorrect spelling of the famous German banking family name). A few manufacturers use both and label their 5-5½-inch, 50-ring models as “Robustos” and reserve the “Rothschild” name for shorter, but still 50-ring, cigars of 4-4¾ inches!
Many other shape names are used by manufacturers; some cigars even have multiple names. For the sake of convenience, the many types of small, very thin cigars are grouped under the “Cigarillo” title rather than distributed over a long list of names such as “Belvederes,” “DemiTasse” and others.
With the great increase in interest in shaped cigars, here are our classification criteria for the various kinds of figurados you will see:
Culebras: Spanish for “snake,” a Culebras is made up of three small cigars twisted together. It was created in the 19th Century as a way for manufacturers to let their rollers take three cigars home at night. By twisting three cigars together, the rollers got their cigars for smoking, but the manufacturers were also sure that those cigars could not be sold. Definitely an oddball, the Culebras returned to the U.S. market in the late 1990s and a few manufacturers have this unique shape available.
Perfecto: This shape has two tapered ends. Until the Cigar Boom of the 1900s, there were just a few cigars which offered Perfecto “tips” on the foot, but true Perfectos have made their comeback. For the bold, take a look at the Puros Indios Gran Victoria (10 inches long by 60 ring) to see a true “potbellied” cigar. This style of cigar is sometime referred to as a “double figurado” referring to the two shaped ends.
Torpedo: This was traditionally a fat cigar with two fully closed, pointed ends, but has now come to mean a cigar with an open foot and a straight body which tapers to a closed, pointed head. This “new” torpedo was popularized by the Montecristo (Havana) No. 2, which debuted in 1935. The Torpedo differs from “Pyramid”-shaped cigars, which flare continuously from the head to the foot, essentially forming a triangle.
And there are still wilder shapes out there: cigars shaped like baseball bats, champagne bottles, footballs, Saguaro cactus, whisk brooms and many others. In 2005, Felipe Gregorio introduced the 3 Tierras cigar, with two small cigarillos nestled together and wrapped into a single unit with a dark wrapper leaf; the finished cigar looked like the business end of a two-bore shotgun!
You’ll want to try different cigars of different sizes for specific occasions. Let your imagination be your guide!
For long-term storage, Get a Humidor! Cigars are like any other plant product and deteriorate over time if not cared for. That’s where a humidor for cigar storage comes in. To store your cigars for use over time, a humidor is essential.
As a product of the Caribbean, cigars do best in a tropical climate similar to the conditions under which they were created. The consensus is that storage is best achieved at a temperature of 70 degrees (F) and at 70 percent relative humidity.
The risks of having conditions which vary wildly from this norm can be substantial. At extremely cold temperatures or with too little humidity, cigars will dry out and be unsmokable (a.k.a. DEAD). At high temperatures - above 80 degrees F - or at high humidity levels, the dreaded tobacco beetle can hatch and begin boring its way through the cigar. The microscopic larvae are embedded in the leaf and high temps or humidity allow them to hatch and destroy any cigar they are in. Whole boxes of cigars have been turned to dust by these vermin. The only defense is to ensure that your cigars are kept at correct temperatures and at humidity levels of less than 80 percent.
(If you get beetle infestations, you’ll see the holes and every cigar which has these problems must be discarded. Check all other cigars in the same box or pack carefully and make sure they are stored in a new or different container before returning them to your humidor. This is why many enthusiasts keep their cigars in their cellophane wrappers to protect against the spread of beetles, even though this slows the aging process. More on this below)
So what kind of humidor works best?
Any container which has a good seal and can incorporate a sponge or other humidification device can be used, even Tupperware. During the Cigar Boom of the 1990s, there was even a plastic box marketed as the “TupperDor”! But beyond that, you’re buying a piece of furniture.
All humidors should close tightly and if lined with wood, must use Spanish Cedar. Other woods such as plywood or American Cedar can have strong smells which can interfere with the taste of your cigars. Take your pick of exterior decorations to match your home or office decor. One suggestion: keep your humidor away from direct sunlight to keep temperatures down.
Not all humidors come with humidifiers, so you need to check before buying. If you need to buy a humidifier separately, there are plenty to choose from, but check to see which require a special propylene glycol solution and which use simple distilled water.
For short-term storag, Get a Case! Just going out for a few hours and need to take your cigars along? Opt for a quality cigar case, made from odorless leather in endless styles and price points. You can choose from ultraprotective hard cases with individual slots or softer cases which have open interiors to allow you to carry different sizes as desired. Don’t worry too much about humidification when carrying your cigars for a few hours on the road, unless you’re going to the desert.
There are cases, essentially small humidors, which include a humidification device inside and there are ideal for taking cigars on a multi-day trip. Be careful, however, on how you fill the humidifier. Losing cigars to overhumidification, or worse, to an exploding or leaky humidifier inside a case is all too common.
Storage: The Great Cellophane Debate.
Here’s the question: when storing cigars in a humidor, should they be removed from their cellophane wrappers, or not?
This is almost like asking who is the greatest baseball player of all time . . . no two people you ask will have the same answer. For example, many connoisseurs, including the noted experts at the Gerard Pere et Fils store in Geneva, Switzerland, campaign vigorously against keeping cigars in cellophane on the grounds that without it, cigars will “breathe” better and reach their peak of flavor. Others, especially Hong Kong collector Min Ron Nee, whose An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Post-Revolution Havana Cigars is one of the wonderworks ever written on the subject, are just as strident in their belief that cigars can age perfectly in cellophane – especially over longer periods – and that there is no reason to remove it. A third view is tempered by an aversion to risk in storing cigars. In specific, the danger of tobacco beetles. These pests are latent in tobacco leaves, right through the cigar-making process. However, they are most often (but not always) prone to hatch when temperatures reach about 80 degrees (F) or more. If they do, they are liable not only to bore through the cigar they are in, but to jump to adjoining cigars if they are able. Nothing will break the heart of a smoker more than to open a box of beautiful cigars and see them reduced to dust by beetles which have run wild through an entire box. To prevent this ensure, as much as possible, that your cigars are stored in conditions which are both humidity-controlled and temperature-controlled. One way to do this, especially for large cigar collections, is to convert freestanding wine cellars – always temperature controlled – for use as cigar humidors. Many models now incorporate humidity control in order to keep corks moist so that they do not disintegrate and pollute the wine upon opening. If your humidor is not temperature controlled, at least keep it away from direct sunlight, which will heat your cigars. Keep the cellophane on your cigars in order to ensure that if a beetle does hatch, it has an added barrier – the cellophane wrapping – in moving from cigar to cigar. This is especially important in humidors in which multiple brands are stored together.
One more reason to consider keeping your cigars in the cellophane in which they were packed is if you remove cigars from your humidor and place them in a case for travel. In some cases, cigars can be squeezed together and the jostling inside a suit pocket or in your briefcase can cause wrappers to rub against each other and possibly end up chipped or broken. This will not happen to cigars which are placed in a case with their cellophane wrappers intact.
So, our advice is: safety first, and keep your cellophane on. It’s not a perfect defense against beetles and bad baggage handlers, but it’s an easy one to implement.
Storage: What about aging?
“Cigars should not be consumed during the sick period.” That’s the clear and unambiguous advice from Nee in An Illustrated Encyclopedia of PostRevolution Havana Cigars. It’s worth noting, because the taste of a cigar changes over time. Nee defines four different stages of aging:
The “sick period” is marked by the unpleasant smell of ammonia when smelling the cigars. Nee notes that this is due to the continuing fermentation of the leaves once rolled into cigars and will go away as the cigars are ventilated. He believes that for most cigars, “the ammoniac smell will be over 90% gone in a few months, 95% to 99% gone by the end of the first year and practically all gone by the end of the second year.”
This instruction is carried by only one cigar we know of: Rafael Gonzalez. Originated in Cuba in 1928, it has long carried the following notice on the box:
“In order that the Connoisseur may fully appreciate the perfect fragrance they should be smoked either within one month of the date of shipment from Havana or should be carefully matured for about one year.”
Nee is concerned exclusively with Cuban-made cigars and does not comment on any differences in manufacture between Cuba and other cigar-producing countries. But among manufacturers for the U.S. market, in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua and other countries, the length of time between when leaves are harvested and when they are rolled into cigars is longer, sometimes much longer (like in years). This helps reduce the ammoniac element. And there are manufacturers who hold their made and boxed cigars for weeks up to months to provide some inthe-box aging that will further eliminate the ammonia problem. Thus, most – but not all – cigars on U.S. smokeshop shelves have already passed through the problem stage. The question is then, how will aging improve cigars. The answer can be quite a bit, if you’re willing to be patient. The legendary cigar merchant and brand icon Zino Davidoff always maintained that cigars should be stored in their original boxes because they “keep working” over time. Nee agrees and he’s willing to be patient:
“Cigars continue to generate pleasant aromas and flavours as a result of the continuous fermentation. These flavours thus increase in intensity with time. And bitterness, believed to be the taste of nicotine, becomes less and less as fermentation causes nicotine to be broken down into simpler molecules.”
While noting that Nee does not claim to be a chemist by profession, he offers the following guidelines for aging cigars into the first maturation period:
For mild cigars, about 2-3 years in standard boxes and 4-5 years in cabinets!
For medium-bodied cigars, five years in regular boxes and 6-8 years in cabinets.
For full-bodied cigars, 7-8 years in standard boxes and 10-15 years in cabinets.
Who can wait that long? But Nee continues, describing the second fermentation as the time when the tannins in the leaves have been broken down. This aspect is well known in wines. For cigars, Nee suggests this period comes between 15 and 25 years, noting that “[t]he cigar tastes quite different to what it was when at first maturity. It is interesting that part of this kind of ‘taste’ is strikingly similar to a 20 year or 25 year old Scotch whiskey.” Third maturation? Nee notes only that this is when the aroma reaches an indescribable state of finesse “and no words can describe how great these bouquets smell because of the paucity of the primitive Human vocabulary.” It takes at least 20 years to reach this state and maybe quite a bit longer.
Writing in 2003, Nee notes that this is one reason why pre-Castro Havanas from the 1950s are often described as so exquisite today, as they have had enough time to – in some brands – to reach their highest level of maturity. For those of us without the patience of the Hong Kong collector, we can learn some lessons about aging and taste:
Give cigars with the smell of ammonia either a long time to age in a large humidor or lots of ventilation to eliminate the odor.
If possible, try to age mild cigars for about a year and give stronger cigars perhaps a couple of years to get past the sick period and enjoy some additional fermentation in the box.
By all means keep a card file or diary and compare the taste and temperament of specific cigars tasted at different times over a 2-3 year period. You can only appreciate the difference in aging by tasting a few cigars from a box at yearly intervals and, you will be looked upon by your cigar-smoking friends as a true connoisseur.
Never mind that your non-smoking friends will think you’re a nut!
Band on or band off?
Every beginning cigar smoker faces this question: should I leave the band on or take it off?
How to smoke cigars – with the band on or off – has been debated without end since about 1850 when Gustave Bock introduced the first bands. Why?
Bock’s Havana-made cigars – like the Fuente Fuente Opus X or Padron 1964 Anniversary Series today – were copied so widely so he put bands on to identify them as authentic. Up to that time, all cigars had been sold without bands or cellophane. In the early days, bands were placed toward the center of most cigars.
(There’s also considerable speculation that bands came about because of the wide use of lightcolored or white gloves in high society where cigars were fashionable and the wrappers stained the gloves, but Bock is widely credited with putting bands on his cigars first.)
For generations in England, it was considered bad practice to smoke cigars with the band on, since it would “advertise” the brand you were smoking. In the U.S., there’s no rule, but many smokers keep the band on.
There are some good reasons, however, to dispense with the band as soon as possible:
Many smokers enjoy collecting bands and some have sheets of bands from cigars they have enjoyed kept like stamps!
In order to get bands off of cigars in the best possible condition, make sure it’s not too tightly attached to the cigar. Many bands will come off more easily after a cigar is lit and the heat inside the cigar helps to disengage the band from the body. Even so, taking it off too early can tear the wrapper and if the band is glued tightly, there’s little hope of removing it without a lot of work.
The best chance of success will come with gently squeezing the band (and the cigar) at various points to loosen it. If fully separated from the wrapper, you may be able to pop it off by pulling gently at its end. But if there was too much glue applied to it originally, you might end up having to cut it with a small fingernail scissors.
If you’re serious about bands, you’ll want to store them in a “stock book” or binder with “stock pages” used for stamps. Any quality stamp dealer will have these, with styles ranging in price and sophistication from a few cents a page to books with leather bindings costing $50 or more.
There’s also the popular Cigar Diary, available at many smokeshops, in which you can paste your bands onto a page and record your impressions of that cigar. A neat item and a great way to begin your own “ratings.”
Liberating the lips:
In recent years, bands have gotten bigger and bigger, sometimes inhibiting the way a smoker enjoys that cigar! For example, you could almost fit a business card in the space taken up by a Diamond Crown Maximus band.
In order to smoke your cigar more enjoyably, you may wish to dispense with these overly large, or in some cases, double bands.
However, be sure to be extra careful when removing bands, lest you tear the wrapper! If the band does not disengage from the cigar easily, leave it on; it may loosen while the cigar is being smoked and can then be removed without damaging the wrapper.
The Yogi Berra Rule:
Probably the best reason for removing your cigar band comes from the “Yogi Berra rule.”
In the 1957 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves, Berra was catching for the Yankees when slugger Henry Aaron came to the plate. Berra, a ceaseless talker behind the plate, told Aaron he was holding the bat improperly, with the trademark facing toward the plate instead of the hitter. Aaron ignored the taunt, crushed the next pitch into the stands for a home run and after circling the bases, reportedly told Berra, “I came here to hit, not to read.”
But read we do and there’s a tendency for all smokers to hold their cigars with the band up so the smoker – and everyone else – can see the front of the band. This can turn out to be a problem if your cigar starts burning at an angle, in which case the side burning too slowly should be rotated so it’s at the bottom. That way, as you puff, more air is sent through the cigar and can ignite the unburned tobacco at the end while the ash on top is cooled.
If you’re stuck with the band in the wrong position, you could look stupid and smoke with the back of the band on top, rotate it and perhaps damage the wrapper, or remove it and eliminate any impediment to enjoying your cigar fully. Thanks, Yogi.
There’s no right or wrong way to smoke, but band etiquette aside, consider the practical consequences of your choice on how your cigar is enjoyed . . . and get one of those stamp stock books before you waste any more bands.
In order to enjoy cigars, the cap must be cut off to allow air to flow through. In his 1967 masterwork, The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar, Zino Davidoff noted that “There are three ways to cut a cigar: by pinching, using your teeth, or with the aid of an instrument. . . . The opening should be clean.”
He also added, “American smokers generally open their cigar with a dry bite of the incisor. Some – not the most refined – then spit out the piece they have bitten off. Besides the fact that you need sharp teeth to use this method (or else you have to try twice), it does not allow for much precision. I realize that some smokers have mastered the art of cutting a cigar with their teeth. However, I do not practice or recommend this method.”
Times have changed.
Today, “instruments” are in and biting is reserved for professional wrestling. There are five major styles of cutting:
Piercing: This is a very old method of creating holes through which to smoke a cigar. It still has its defenders, but it is well out of date. One of the problems is that unless the openings are made perfectly, the head can be mangled. There is also the possibility that the taste and draw of the cigar will be imperfect unless the holes are made such that each one allows a draw through to the end of the cigar. Too much trouble and too many things that could go wrong, so it’s not recommended.
The V-Cut: This was a very popular method of cutting which is still practiced today. Take a look at the eBay auction site and search for “cigar cutter” and you’ll find several V-cutters on offer. A V-cutter makes a V-shaped groove through the head of a cigar, opening it across its width to allow draw. It maintains the shape of the head instead of removing it like a guillotine and there are some brands of machine-made cigars which are sold already cut this way. However, unless your touch with a V-cutter is good and the plunger is sharp, you can also ruin the cigar head. Moreover, if the cap of a cigar is not perfectly finished, the V-cut groove may not draw well and once you’ve made a V-cut, there’s little chance of trying again on the same cigar without ruining it.
The Cigar Punch:A cigar punch has a lot in common with the V-cut in that it maintains the integrity of the head of a cigar. Punches come in varying sizes and the idea is to match the right size with the girth of the cigar so that the head is opened with a hole large enough to allow an easy draw, but which does not destabilize the wrapper. Davidoff makes some rather unique punch cutters with three different-size punches on a single disk or “key” while most punches are of a single size. Colibri is well known for its combination lighters and punch cutters. Punches can be quite effective and require less strength than some V-cutters and some guillotine cutters. With some practice, they can be a reliable way to enjoy your cigars and “keep your head together.”
Cigar Scissors: Perhaps the most elegant cutter of all is the cigar scissors. Shaped with curved blades which cut across the entire head of a cigar – similar to a guillotine cut – suitable-sharp scissors can cut a nice, clean line across a cigar and open the entire head so that the smoker can draw through the entire cigar. Because of their size, scissors have faded from popularity, but should be considered especially for home humidors. The size of the opening must be considered as it will be difficult to open a 50-ring cigar with scissors meant only for cigars up to 42 ring gauge! However, cigar scissors are easy to find and most top-line tobacconists carry them at prices starting at $10 and continuing right up to $500. An especially unique scissors was introduced in 2006 by Cuban Crafters called the Revolucion. It is a scissors-style cutter with a hole in the middle into which to place your cigar, which will then be cut by three blades running in a circular motion! Ask for it at your local smokeshop! There are also hybrid scissors available that as a small as guillotine cutter but feature two finger holes directly attached to the cutting blades without the use of a stem. Or, you can check out the Wenger series of “Swiss Army Knives” which includes a model which incorporates a fold-out cigar scissors.
Guillotine:For reasons of economy, ease of use, effectiveness and portability, the guillotine cutter has become – by far – the most popular style of cutter used today. From $1 plastic cutters with thin blades to jewel-encrusted jobs bearing pedigrees from S.T. Dupont, Dunhill, Davidoff and others, guillotines simply remove the top eighth-of-an-inch or so of a cigar and opens it up so that a smoker may puff through its entire length and width. That makes for good air circulation and is recommended for the best draw, best taste and best burn. There is considerable debate on what kind of guillotine cutter is best, not to mention which brand. The choice has become considerably complicated today due to the ever-expanding ring gauge of cigars. To be safe, you’ll need to have a cutter that can handle a 64-ring (one inch!) monster!
Consider This: Two-bladed cutters which meet in the middle need to be extraordinarily sharp to actually cut the head of the cigar and not simply squeeze it. The most widely-celebrated cutters of this style are made by Davidoff, available in fine metals or with a colorful plastic housing ($45- $165), and by Xikar, which features surgical steel blades in double-bladed models with can be operated easily with one hand ($40 to $80).Single-bladed cutters vary widely in quality and price. To be effective, these blades must be truly razor-sharp since they must either cut through the cigar or mash the head. One of the most popular and effective cutters of this style is the Paul Garmirian Cutter, which is reasonably priced at $12.50 retail but can handle cigars only up to 48 ring gauge. Davidoff also makes a cutter of this type and there are many others. Try one out before buying it! Bring an uninteresting cigar and put a prospective cutter to the test and you’ll know quickly if it’s the one for you. Sadly, the best-ever single-bladed guillotine cutter is out of production. The P.G. Super Cutter by Paul Garmirian was a wonder, with a Sheffield Steel blade whose leading edge had a thickness of 1/4000th of an inch and was housed in an anodized aluminum frame. Unfortunately, the boutique British maker of these tools passed away and Garmirian has not been able to find anyone who can continue production. The Super Cutter sold at retail for $125 when it was available, but brought $331 at a 2006 auction on eBay! Of course, you can also get a real (but small) guillotine as a novelty gift for the cigar smoker who was a fan of the French Revolution!
The choice of what kind of cutter to use is a personal one. Like any knife, sharper is better (and safer). Choose one which will meet your requirements for style, but be sure it opens the cigar effectively, because the pleasure is not in the cutting, but in the smoking!
In The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar, Davidoff addressed the issue of “warming the cigar” before lighting it. “The practice of excessive heating, still in use in many elegant restaurants, is an anachronism. Until the end of the [19th Century], the wrappers of certain Spanish cigars made in Seville were sealed with a chicory-colored gum. It was then wise to eliminate the taste of the gum by heating the cigar a bit over a flame. Today, the vegetable gum used in Havana to seal wrapper to the ends is perfectly odorless, and I see no advantage in continuing the practice. . . . I recommend only that you warm the foot very lightly, just for a few seconds, before bringing it to your lips. This creates an entryway for the smoke. The first puff you draw will then be free of various residual tastes.”
That’s clear enough.
Purists will insist on not having the flame actually touch the cigar, whether from a match or a lighter. Some require the more romantic step of using a lit cedar strip (called a “spill”) to light their cigars, but this is more prevalent in Europe than in the U.S.
Enthusiasts agree that using paper matches is a bad idea, since they won’t stay lit long enough to completely light your cigar. Try wooden matches and let the sulphur burn off of the tip of the match before lighting. If you’re using a lighter, butane is the best (odorless and tasteless) and apply it gently just below the end of the cigar. Although elegant lighters from legendary makers as Alfred Dunhill, Davidoff and S.T. Dupont are much prized, the newest development is the socalled “torch” which offers a very hot, windproof flame. Some torch lighters even provide two or three flames, ensuring a quick light and a quick need to re-fill the lighter.
A fast light is not always a good light, however. It is essential to ensure that the entire end of the cigar is lit. This is most effectively done by turning the cigar and puffing on it as you light, exposing all of the end to the flame. Remember, “Turn and Burn.”
Check your light by turning the lit end toward you, blowing gently and checking to see that the entire end is hot. Then enjoy!
Smoking your cigar
Some of the best advice ever given on the smoking of cigars is in Davidoff’s The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar:
“A cigar should not be kept in the mouth all the time . . . A cigar is not held like a cigarette. Most often it is held between the thumb and index finger. Hold the cigar in your mouth to take a puff and leave it there only for a few seconds (three, four, five or six, according to taste). In this way, if you take fifty minutes to smoke a cigar, it will stay in your mouth, on the average, no more than three minutes.
“The rest of the time it will be kept motionless between your fingers, parallel to the ground.”
“Cigar smoke is not inhaled. The volume of smoke in the mouth produces an intense, and sufficient, pleasure. This peculiarity of the cigar, in contrast with cigarettes, protects the cigar smoker from all sorts of inconveniences, not to mention risks.”
That Cigar Aftertaste
Some cigars leave an aftertaste in the mouth that could last for a day or two. Our approach to this problem focuses on eliminating the aftertaste layer by layer. No single product or procedure will completely remove the taste of a cigar. By using several steps to successively reduce the amount of cigar residue in the mouth, any remaining taste can be almost totally eliminated. Try a three-step approach:
Cut most of the taste with citric acid:This is extremely important. There’s a reason why so many mouthwashes and other products have a lemon, lime or orange taste. It’s the citric acid, which overpowers everything else in the mouth. It’s hardly fashionable to follow your cigar with Listerine, but there are excellent – and tasty – alternatives. Stay away from the weaker citrus drinks such as sodas and go for more acidic tonics. Orange juice is good, but a favorite is Schweppes Bitter Lemon. If lemon extract can cut through grease in the bathroom, imagine what it can do to your mouth! Many manufacturers make this drink, including Canada Dry, but the best – if you can find it – is Schweppes Bitter Lemon in the 10 oz. bottle, served chilled over rocks in an Old Fashioned glass. The combination of lemon juice and bitter quinine is both sour and refreshing and will cut 80-90% of the taste of anything that was in your mouth.
Give your mouth something else to chew on:After giving your mouth some time to recover from the Bitter Lemon, give your mouth something else to worry about. A couple of options are: Cereal: If you’re at home, this can be a tasty follow-up to the Bitter Lemon or other citric acid drink. Try a couple of handfuls of Rice Krispies straight – no milk – and see if your mouth doesn’t respond with some glee. Any of the Chex cereals – except Bran Chex – are also good and Grape Nuts is also an excellent choice. Cheese: If you are smoking on the outdoor patio of a restaurant with some friends and enjoy your cigar after the entree, follow up with a citric beverage and then enjoy dessert. A great choice to chase the cigar taste from the mouth is some sharp, hard cheese. Ordering a cheese plate for dessert is quite an impressive way to end any meal.
Give your cigar the brush-off:Once you have been “citric acidified” and cheesed up, you can get out the toothbrush and be sure to brush that tongue. By then you should be cigar taste-free . . . or too exhausted to worry about it anymore. Alternatively, there is a product on the U.S. market called “Close Call” which debuted at the 2005 RTDA and uses a patented process which suspends copper sulfate in liquid. It has a light citrus taste and is reported to be safe to “swish and swallow.”
Remember that eliminating the taste in your mouth does nothing about the smell on your clothes and in your hair (if you have any). You’ll need to take separate precautions for this; remember that the silk smoking jacket was invented to keep the smell of cigars off of noblemen. Silk is relatively resistant to the smell of cigars compared with most other fabrics. After-dinner peppermints such as Altoids, or special cigar mints (the best known brand is Henry Clay) are strong and can be helpful. Just as effective can be hard candy sour balls or hot cinnamon balls.
Creating the Ultimate Cigar Experience
Building Your Personal Cigar Center
Ready to graduate from enthusiast to connoisseur? At some point, you’ll outgrow the small desk humidor and look for ways to showcase your interest and enjoyment in cigars. That means more and better cigar accessories, a much larger cigar humidor and perhaps even a private cigar retreat. Consider these options as your commitment grows:
A part of the overall fun of cigars is the wealth of accessories available. The connoisseur will enjoy the company of his or her favorite accents to the cigar experience, such as:
Looking to start your collection? It’s no further away than your local tobacconist, or your computer at www.ebay.com.
Creating Your Own, Personalized Cigars
Smokers desiring personalized cigars have several options:
In addition, there are many brands with special occasion models, such as for the birth of children. Check the Cigar Almanac (special models section) of our Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars tab above to see the current menu on the U.S. market.
Cigars Across the Centuries
In addition to the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Europe, the Crusades, colonial expansion, the emergence of independent nations in North and South America and Africa, world wars and economic expansion in Asia, historians chronicling the second millennium of the Common Era will also note the introduction of tobacco and later, cigars.
Here’s a brief look back to the beginning of the cigar, with notes on important (and not so important) moments between 1492 and today.
Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sails to the Americas and on October 28, Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres visit the interior of what would become known as the island of Cuba. Xerez and Torres meet with the natives and witness a strange ritual in which the smoke of burned leaves is inhaled through a pipe. This is Europe’s introduction to the leaves known as Cohiba by the natives, but later called Tobacco (actually the native name for the pipe) upon the explorer’s return to Europe.
Spain assumed control of Cuba by 1511 and by 1519, the area now known as Havana was settled. In 1614, the Spanish crown authorized LA CASA DE CONTRATATACION DE LA HABANA for the development of tobacco production in Cuba. Most of the tobacco was used for snuff, but a small amount was used cigars, mostly produced in the Spanish city of Seville starting as early as 1676 with full factories running by 1731. Some cigar production started in Cuba as well.
British Army Colonel Israel Putnam, later a general for the fledgling United States in the Revolutionary War, introduces cigars to the Colonies (specifically his native Connecticut) and begins the planting of tobacco upon his return from an expedition to Cuba.
The Cuban trademark office records the first two applications for cigar brand registrations: B. Rencurrel by Bernardino Rencurrel and later, Hija de Cabañas y Carbajal, by Francisco G. Cabañas.
The first cigar workshops began in the United States about this time.
The Por Larrañaga brand was introduced in Havana by Ignacio Larrañaga and Julian Rivera. The name means “For Larrañaga.”
Within ten years after Ferdinand’s decree of 1817, exports of Cuban cigars reached 407,000 units. But within 20 years, the industry was firmly established and growing wildly with 4.887 million units exported from 306 factories on the island!
Spanish immigrant Ramon Allones introduced a cigar brand named after himself. He is credited with being the first to decorate cigar boxes with brightly-colored lithography.
The Punch brand is introduced, trademarked – according to records – “by a German named Stockmann.”
The famous brand H. Upmann was begun in Cuba. Reports vary as to whether the brand was started by German banker Hermann Upmann, or his family (which may have actually been named Hupmann). In any case, it quickly became one of the most popular brands made in Havana.
Although there were reports that production started as early as 1827, this is the year generally cited for the debut of the Partagas brand in Havana. Don Jaime Partagas created the line and built his famed factory at Industria 520 this year.
The La Corona brand was also started by Jose Cabarga y Cia. In Havana.
Emilio Olmstedt created both the El Rey del Mundo and Sancho Panza brands in Havana.
The explosive popularity of tobacco led to exports of 141.6 million Cuban-produced cigars in 1840 and climaxed with a still-standing record of 356.6 million cigars exported in 1855.
A Newark, Ohio merchant named Daniel Swisher receives a small cigar business in settlement of a debt. He and his four sons continue to operate it until 1888, when sons John and Harry buy the business from their father.
The first reader (“lector” in Spanish) is introduced, reportedly at the El Figaro Factory in Havana, followed in January 1866 at the Partagas Factory. The practice was banned by the Cuban government from 1868-78 and 1895-98; radios were introduced in factories in 1923, first at Cabañas y Carbajal factory.
Jose Gener started the Hoyo de Monterrey brand in Havana. At the time of his death in 1900, his factories were reportedly the largest in the world, producing 50 million cigars a year.
The Romeo y Julieta brand was introduced by Inocencio Alvarez and Mannin Garcia in Havana. It became popular, but it took off after being purchased in 1903 by Pepin Fernandez, who made it a worldwide sensation.
The Ybor City neighborhood in Tampa, Florida was founded by Vincent Ybor. It quickly became the center of cigar-making in America with 60 factories built there by 1910.
Ruth Cleveland, the first child of former U.S. President Grover Cleveland was born, possibly triggering the practice of handing out cigars in celebration of the birth of a child. Cleveland, who served as President from 1885-89, was living in New York with his 27-years-younger wife Frances when she bore the first of five children in what was a national sensation at the time. Cleveland apparently handed out cigars to some friends after the birth and the event was apparently widely-enough reported to start a tradition. Cleveland served as President again from 1893-97, but Ruth died in 1904.
English poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) publishes a new collection, Bachelor Ballads, including “The Betrothed,” an ode to cigars which included the lines “There’s peace in a Larrañaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay” and “And a woman is just a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.”
Reacting to the growing popularity of thinner, more pliable Sumatra tobacco, Connecticut growers plant Sumatra seeds and begin mimicking Indonesia’s cloudy climate by putting tents over their tobacco fields. This new style of leaf is called “shade-grown.”
The La Aurora factory, apparently the first cigar factory to appear in the Dominican Republic, is opened by Don Eduardo Leon Jimenes. The La Aurora brand is still made there today.
In order to battle counterfeiting, the Cuban government authorized (on July 16) a warranty seal to be placed on all cigars produced in the country. The original style of seal was changed in 1931 to the type seen today.
The Arturo Fuente Cigar Company is founded by Arturo Fuente, a Cuban-born cigar maker who had moved to Tampa, Florida after the Spanish-American War. Fuente ran the company until his son Carlos took control in 1960.
U.S. government statistics show 15,732 cigar-making factories to be active in the U.S., making 6.6 million cigars in total.
The total number of factories declined continuously from this figure, falling to 9,877 factories in service by 1924 and less than 5,000 (4,905) by 1935.
Effective cigar-making machines took hold in the United States during this decade. From almost no machine-made production in 1920, 30 percent of all U.S. made cigars were machine-made by 1929. In his autobiography, Cigar Family, A 100 Year Journey in the Cigar Business, Stanford Newman wrote that “In 1926, machine-made cigars had accounted for a mere 18 percent of the American cigar industry. By 1936, machine-made cigars constituted a whopping 75 percent of the market.”
One of the enduring images of American politics, the “smoke-filled room” was first used to describe the behind-the-scenes maneuvering which led to the nomination of Warren G. Harding to be the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States in June of 1920. The room itself was reportedly Suite 404 of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, although other sources say the room in question was on the eighth floor. The phrase “smoke-filled room” was taken from an Associated Press dispatch which reported “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room.”
After three years of discussions and negotiations, six regional cigar companies are merged into Consolidated Cigar Corporation, led by Julius Lichtenstein of the American Sumatra Tobacco Co. The company’s first national success came with the promotion of Dutch Masters, a brand originally owned by the G.H. Johnson Cigar Co.
The British firm of J. Frankau, S.A. purchases the H. Upmann bank and cigar factory from the Upmann family.
Jno. H. Swisher & Son converts from hand-rolled cigars to machine-made technology with great success. By 1927, their plant in Jacksonville, Florida becomes the Swisher headquarters as its original facilities in Ohio are closed.
The first cigar-making machines are introduced in Cuba at the Por Larrañaga factory. The machines caused an uproar, finally leading to a strike and the machines were removed in 1937. They were re-introduced to stay in 1950 at the La Corona, Partagas and Por Larrañaga factories.
Consolidated Cigar acquires the G.H.P. Cigar Company and its El Producto brand, promoted by Vaudeville star George Burns.
The Retail Tobacco Dealers of America is formed with New York tobacconist William A. Hollingsworth as its first President. The first RTDA national convention and trade show is held in New York, which would be the only site for the event through 1980.
The Montecristo brand was introduced by Alonso Menendez shortly after his purchase of the Particulares S.A, factory in Havana. The brand became an overnight sensation and in 1937, the Menendez & Garcia firm purchased the H. Upmann factory from J. Frankau, S.A., where the brand was made thereafter.
Zino Davidoff installs what is reported to be the first climate-controlled storage facility for cigars in the basement of his famed shop on the Rue de la Confederation in Geneva, Switzerland.
The world’s best-selling cigar (by volume) is reported to be King Edward, made by Jno. H. Swisher & Son of Jacksonville, Florida.
The Technical Director of the Comision Nacional de la Propaganda y Defensa del Tabaco Habano, Jose Perdomo, publishes Lexico Tabacalero Cubano, a complete dictionary of Cuban cigar terminology. The book lists 40 companies and 307 brands are listed as being produced in Havana in 1940.
The famed H. Upmann factory at 407 Amistad Street, just around the corner from the Partagas factory in downtown Havana, was opened. It continued operation as the home of H. Upmann, Montecristo and other brands until 2003 when a new H. Upmann factory was opened.
Swiss cigar merchant Zino Davidoff teams with Fernandez, Palicio y Cia., producers of Hoyo de Monterrey and other brands, to revive interest in Havana cigars following World War II. Davidoff’s Chateau series of cigars, essentially a private label, is introduced.
The number of American factories falls below 2,500 during 1946; government statistics cite 2,441 factories in operation. The number would fall below 1,000 (to 971) by 1954.
Sir Winston Churchill visits Havana, including a trip to the Romeo y Julieta factory. Thereafter – probably between 1952-56 – the Clemenceau size (7 inches by 47 ring), originally introduced in 1918 to honor French Premier Georges Clemenceau after World War I is also named for Churchill. Production of the Clemenceau finally ended in the 1980s, but the Churchill is going strong.
Standard Cigar Co. of Tampa, a subsidiary of M&N Cigar Manufacturers of Cleveland, is opened by Stanford Newman in the old Regensburg Cigar Company factory built in 1910 and known throughout the area for its giant clock tower. M&N Cigar Manufacturers, founded by J.C. Newman in 1895 in Cleveland, Ohio closes in 1954.
Consolidated Cigar acquires the Muriel cigar brand from P. Lorrillard & Co. The brand became nationally famous through television commercials starring Edie Adams and the line “Pick me up and smoke me sometime.” Adams was succeeded as the Muriel Girl in the 1970s by model Susan Anton.
According to the January 1 edition of the Tarifa de los Precios de Venta de Cigarros de la Isla de Cuba, there are 140 brands in production and 999 in-production shapes. Revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro took over the government on January 2.
At the time, H. Upmann was the leading Cuban brand by sales volume. Its parent, Menendez & Garcia, exported nearly five million cigars to the U.S. annually, to sell for between 50 cents and $1.25 each.
Following the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries, the Cuban cigar industry is nationalized in October. Many firms are closed and owners of many of the most famous brands leave the island. For the first time, boxes of cigars produced in Cuba are stamped “Hecho en Cuba” instead of “Made in Havana-Cuba.”
In the U.S., the Eisenhower Administration imposes a partial economic embargo on October 19, but food and medicine are excluded.
U.S. cigar factories keep closing, falling to less than 500 (477) in 1961.
Edgar Cullman leads a group of investors and buys General Cigar, a profitable firm well known for its White Owl, William Penn, Van Dyck and Robert Burns brands, among others.
Following the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro and his fellow revolutionaries, the Cuban cigar industry is nationalized in October. Many firms are closed and owners of many of the most famous brands leave the island. For the first time, boxes of cigars produced in Cuba are stamped “Hecho en Cuba” instead of “Made in Havana-Cuba.”
In the U.S., the Eisenhower Administration imposes a partial economic embargo on October 19, but food and medicine are excluded.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy expands the partial economic embargo of 1960, banning all trade except for non-subsidized sales of foods and medicines, on February 7. On March 23, the embargo is expanded to cover imports of all goods made from or containing Cuban materials, even if made in other countries, effectively ending imports of Havana cigars to the U.S. Before the embargo took effect, however, Kennedy had his Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, obtain more than 1,000 of Kennedy’s favorite cigars, the H. Upmann Petit Upmann, for his personal enjoyment.
Jose “Pepe” Mendez, a Cuban expatriate tobacco grower now working in the Dominican Republic, receives shipments of Cuban tobacco seeds inside bags of cotton and begins planting “Piloto Cubano” tobacco, named for the town from which it originated in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio region.
A national tobacco monopoly in Cuba, the Empresa Cubana del Tabaco, better known as Cubatabaco, is formed.
Looking for an alternative to Cuban tobacco, Stanford Newman begins using wrapper leaf from Cameroon on his hot-selling Cuesta-Rey line.
Following the U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the dangers of smoking cigarettes, cigar consumption in the U.S. exploded to almost 9.9 billion, the highest figure since records were kept beginning in 1920.
In Cuba, the La Gloria Cubana brand is revived for export.
On a trip from a staff member, Fidel Castro becomes enamored with a blend by roller Eduardo Rivera that becomes the Cohiba brand. Factory production of the brand begins at the El Laguito factory in 1967 with Rivera in charge; Avelino Lara took control of the brand from 1970 until his retirement in 1994.
The Davidoff brand is released worldwide by Cubatabaco and continues in production until the end of 1991 with distribution ended as of December 31, 1992.
General Cigar Co. purchases Gradiaz Annis & Co., makers of the popular Gold Label brand, and also acquires the Temple Hall factory in Jamaica. The latter is home to brands including Creme de Jamaica and Temple Hall and owns a trademark for a little-known brand called Macanudo.
In the aftermath of F. Palicio y Compania, S.A. v. Brush, 256 F.Supp. 481 (S.D.N.Y. 1966), aff’d, 375 F. 2d 1011 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 830 (1967), production for the U.S. market of the Cuban brands Hoyo de Monterrey and Punch brands (among others) begins in Honduras. The case established that the Cuban company owners retained ownership of intellectual property assets such as cigar brand names and marks in the U.S. market in the aftermath of having their property confiscated by the Cuban government in 1960.
Oettinger Imex S.A., led by Ernst Schneider, purchases the Davidoff retail store and all Davidoff-owned brands and trademarks for four million Swiss francs (about $970,000 U.S. at the time).
On October 10, a 350-square foot cigar store opens in New York at the corner of 6th Avenue and 45th Street. J & R Tobacco Corporation (better known as J-R Cigars), owned by Lew and LaVonda Rothman, begins a mail-order business in 1971 and enters the wholesale market with its Cigars by Santa Clara division in 1977. In 1972, J-R offers Chivis, apparently the first brand ever to be sold as a bundle-packed, rather than boxed, cigar (seven sizes ranging in price from $9.00 to $16.50 for bundles of 25). By 1983, J-R was the largest retailer of premium cigars in the U.S.
Macanudo is introduced in its current form by General Cigar and thanks to a heavy advertising and sales campaign, becomes the leading premium brand in the U.S. by mid-decade.
U.S. cigar consumption peaks at 11.23 billion units, an average of 54 cigars (of all sizes) for every man, woman and child in the country at that time.
By November, a series of U.S. Federal court cases, including Alfred Dunhill of London, Inc., vs. Republic of Cuba, 425 U.S. 682 (1976) and Menendez vs. Faber, Coe & Gregg, Inc., 345 F. Supp. 527 (S.D.N.Y. 1972), aff’d sub nom, Menendez v. Saks & Co., 485 F.2d 1355 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 991 (1976) established the ownership of Cuban brand names and trademarks in the former owners whose assets were nationalized by the Castro regime. Shortly thereafter, non-Cuban versions of H. Upmann made in the Canary Islands of Spain and Partagas, made in Jamaica, appeared on the U.S. market.
A new premium cigar factory called the Manufactura de Tabacos, S.A. or “MATASA” for short opens under the direction of President Manuel Quesada.
Cigar shapes are finally standardized in all Cuban cigar factories, ending centuries of factoryspecific sizes.
Al Goldstein, the maverick publisher of Screw magazine, debuts a 12-page, newsletter-style quarterly publication called Cigar. Subscriptions cost $9.95 for 12 issues, but the venture folds after four issues.
Cohiba, until now a private brand for diplomatic uses, is introduced for world-wide sale as a Cuban salute to the FIFA World Cup being held in Spain.
Production of the Cuban Dunhill brand is also introduced (it ended production in 1991).
Henry Schielein, the general manager of the Boston Ritz-Carlton Hotel, inaugurates the hotel’s new smoking lounge with a black-tie dinner and dozens of enthusiastic cigar lovers. It is nothing less than the re-birth of the gentleman’s smoker, now known as the Cigar Dinner.
Cubatabaco introduces box codes to bottom of its cigar boxes to track the date and place of manufacture. This set of codes lasts through 1998.
Lebanese-born composer Avo Uvezian introduces his own brand, called Avo and made at Tabadom in the Dominican Republic.
Corral, Wodiska & Co., makers of the immensely-popular Bering brand, is sold to Swisher Intenational.
Carlos Fuente closes his Tampa-area machine-made cigar factory, asking Stanford Newman of M&N cigar Manufacturers to make his cigars for him. Fuente decides to concentrate on handmade cigars in the Dominican Republic and agrees to make the La Unica brand for Newman; it’s one of the first premium-quality handmade cigars to be offered in bundles.
Consolidated Cigar acquires the assets of the American Cigar Company, including the wellknown Antonio y Cleopatra, La Corona and Roi-Tan brands.
Davidoff of Geneva opens its first U.S. store, at 535 Madison Avenue in New York, New York.
Consolidated Cigar’s unending chain of acquisitions continues with purchases of the Jamaica Tobacco Co. (including its Royal Jamaica brand) and the Te-Amo/Geryl Corporation, owner of Te-Amo.
Baltimore tobacconist Ira “Bill” Fader takes over as RTDA Executive Director from Malcolm Fleisher, who had served since 1961.
Although not yet imagined, the momentum behind the cigar boom of the 1990s started in this year:
In February, The Wine Spectator publishes a richly-illustrated cover story on “The Allure of Cuban Cigars.” The strong positive reaction to the issue confirms the publisher’s strategy to launch a cigar-themed magazine — Cigar Aficionado — in the fall of the same year.
Importation of premium cigars falls slightly from 1990 figures to 111.4 million, with the Dominican Republic and Honduras accounting for 76% of the total.
New strains of tobacco called Habana-92 and Habana -2000 are introduced in Cuba to combat disease and increase yields.
A Miami-based air-traffic controller named Nick Perdomo begins rolling cigars in his home to supplement his income. He opened a factory in Nicaragua in 1997 and quickly became a major player in the U.S. cigar scene.
American cigar consumption bottoms out at 3.42 billion units, an average of 13 cigars per capita. The number of cigars consumed dropped in 19 of the 20 years following the 1973 high, with overall use down 69.5% in that period.
Imports of premium cigars, however, reach new highs at 126.9 million (a 15% increase), including 57 million from the D.R. and 44 million from Honduras.
Revival! Although the mood at the annual Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in Chicago is muted, overall cigar sales rise by 8.6% for the year, the first increase in 1983. The number of brands in circulation, as shown in the first edition of the Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars, is 370.
Imports of premium cigars, however, reach new highs at 126.9 million (a 15% increase), including 57 million from the D.R. and 44 million from Honduras.
Zino Davidoff dies at age 87 in Geneva, Switzerland on January 14. During his lifetime, he introduced the first humidified storage facility for cigars (1936), the first personal humidor (1950s) and the famed cigar brand which bears his name.
Habanos S.A. is created as the marketing and distribution arm of Cuban cigar industry and a Habanos sticker is placed on the corner of all boxes of cigars made in Havana.
On July 21, California Assembly Bill 13 becomes law (now Cal. Labor Code sec. 6404.5), banning smoking from most indoor areas effective January 1, 1995.
The Boom is on. Overall cigar sales increase for the second year in a row, this time by 8.7%. Imports of premium cigars rise by a stunning 33.3% to 194,547,000. The number of brands in circulation rises by 23% to 457.
General Cigar, already the producers of the top-selling cigar brands in the nation — Macanudo and Partagas — break into apparel with elegantly-designed and beautifully-made shirts, hats and jackets featuring the logos of both brands in time for the holiday season.
A second big-format, national, cigar-themed magazine — Smoke — debuts with actor Pierce Brosnan on the cover. The initial run of 100,000 is quickly sold out.
The cigar expansion continues unabated. Sales rise 13.5% to 4.588 billion and imports of premium cigars go wild, up 64% to 319,748,000. Dominican imports top 100 million for the first time at 138,622,000. Entrepreneurs are everywhere, introducing 202 new brands — a 44% rise — to bring the total to 659.
The Tabacalera A. Fuente introduces its long-promised all-Dominican brand, the Fuente Fuente Opus X — better known as Opus X — which is offered in such small quantities and is so sought after as to make it rarer, pricier and more sought-after than virtually any Havana-made cigar. Available only in the eastern part of the U.S., asking prices in some shops top $50 per cigar, many times the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. This achievement in cigar-making and cigar-marketing is perhaps an appropriate icon for The Boom and its transformation of an industry thought to be all but dead just a few years earlier.
General Cigar continued its push to exploit the power of its top-selling brands with the opening of the posh Club Macanudo bar, restaurant and smoker’s lounge on New York’s Upper East Side in May.
General also expanded its brand portfolio with the purchase of Villazon & Company, owners of the Belinda, Excalibur, Hoyo de Monterrey, La Escepcion and Punch brands (among others), for about $70 million.
In Jamaica, Consolidated Cigar Corporation opens a new 35,000-square foot Royal Jamaica factory under the name Jamaica Tobacco Company in Maypen. Hurricane Gilbert destroyed the previous home of the brand in 1988, but production ended and the factory closes in 2000 (the last Royal Jamaicas were rolled in July). The Royal Jamaica brand was founded in 1922.
On August 16, the Davidoff factory in Santiago, Dominican Republic, was destroyed by fire. It had been purchased by Hendrik Kelner in 1983 and began producing Davidoffs in 1989.
Oettinger Imex, owner of the Davidoff brand, buys the Avo brand from then-69-year-old Avo Uvezian. Distributed by Davidoff since its beginning in 1986, the brand sold 20,000 units in 1987 but 1.4 million by 1985.
Media coverage of The Boom becomes intense. Spy magazine puts Madonna on the cover of its September/October issue, puckering up on what appears to be an exploded Don Tomas cigar to promote its cover story “Smoke and Mirrors.”
At the trade level, the absolute height of The Boom comes during the August, 1996 Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show in Cincinnati. With shortages of name brand cigars and accessories everywhere, literally anything sells. Retailers place huge orders hoping to obtain 10, 25 or 50 percent of the order in time for the holiday season. A feeding frenzy which had not been seen — and may not be seen again — for a long time.
Cubatabaco introduces the Cuaba brand and an old brand primarily used for domestic cigars, Jose L. Piedra, is revived for export.
The pop culture rocket which is cigars hits its highest point. Total cigar sales soar to unimaginable levels, ending at 5.16 billion units, another increase of 12 percent. Imports of premium cigars are insane, with 417.8 million units (an increase of 72 percent!) added to an increasing total of domestically-produced cigars as the U.S.-based hand-made industry is revived. Imports from the Dominican Republic alone total 209,374,000, a 40-fold increase in 20 years!
Brands are introduced so fast that the year-end edition of the Perelman’s Pocket Cyclopedia of Cigars showed 1,144 brands, more than triple the number from the first edition published just three years before.
General Cigar debuts its version of Cohiba at the RTDA in July, but Empress Cubano del Tabaco (a.k.a. Cubatabaco) sues General Cigar and Culbro Corp. over ownership rights to the Cohiba name in U.S. Federal District Court in New York, New York.
Tabacalera S.A. of Spain purchases Havatampa, Inc. and Los Angeles-based premium cigar distributor Hollco-Rohr, owner of the Gispert, Juan Lopez, Romeo y Julieta and Saint Luis Rey trademarks in the U.S. The transaction for Max Rohr Importers, Inc. is estimated at approximately $53 million U.S.
Newsweek magazine features the cigar craze on the cover of its July 21, 1997 issue with the headline “Cigars are Cool? Why America Got Hooked on a Stinky Trend” below a picture of television star Jenny McCarthy holding a long cigar.
The end of the Boom was also declared, however, at year’s end. A November issue ofBarron’s reviewed the cigar craze and declared that the heady days of double-digit sales and price increases were over and that consumption would level off. Right on the money.
The International Cigar Exposition, billed as an alternative trade show to the RTDA, is held for the first time, in Las Vegas. It became the Int’l Tobacco Exposition in 1999, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets Expo from 2000-2006 and changed its name to the Tobacco Plus Expo for 2007.
The Cubans introduce two new brands: Vegas Robaina, saluting the famed tobacco farmer of the Vuelta Abajo and Vegueros.
In what is possibly the first-ever “limited edition” made for the U.S. market, Davidoff creates the “535,” a 6-inch by 50-ring Toro-sized cigar to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of its first U.S. store, in New York at 535 Madison Avenue. Only 10,000 cigars were made.
Boom turned into what appeared to be bust, but was in fact the inevitable cooling off of an overheated industry.
Sales continue to rise, however, for the fifth straight year, but only by 3.7 percent, to 5.35 billion. Imports of premium cigars declined for the first time since 1991, by 10.4 percent to 334,576,000 as consumer’s humidors were filled to overflowing.
First “International Seminary of the Habanos” in held in Havana from February 16-20; it’s the precursor of Festival del Habano. The Trinidad brand is introduced to worldwide distribution at the Gala Dinner and Auction on the final evening..
Hurricane Georges rips through the Caribbean from September 20-22, causing wide-spread damage, especially in the Dominican Republic (380 deaths) and Haiti (209 dead). In Cuba, six deaths were attributed to the storm. Tobacco facilities in the Dominican were severely damaged.
The first-ever awards for “best cigars” are announced by the European Cigar-Cult Journalin Hamburg, Germany. The “Cigar Trophy” is given for the best brands in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and others.
On November 3, California voters pass Proposition 10 by just 79,728 votes (or 50.5% to 49.5%: 4,042,466 to 3,962,738), passing in only 15 of the state’s 58 counties. In the name of funding early-childhood education, it raises taxes on cigarettes from 50 cents per pack to 87 cents per pack and also raises the tax on the wholesale price of cigars by an “equivalent” amount.
Sales continued to slide as the hundreds of millions of cigars of failed brands continued to move through the market as bargain close-outs, unbanded bundles and mail-order remainder items. At year’s end, imports totaled 248.26 million, down 25.8% from 1998. Supplies of brand-name cigars were more widely available and pricing of many brands — especially those which had not established a strong presence in the market — dived.
The number of brands finally fell, as documented elsewhere in this edition, to a little over 1,220 brands, down by 220 or so from the peak. But quality and innovation at the top end continues, with the introduction of very large cigars, box-pressed models and the wide production once again of perfecto-shaped cigars, which were the dominant shape made at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Swedish Match purchases General Cigar’s machine-made cigar operations (Garcia y Vega, Tiparillo, White Owl among others) in May and El Credito Cigars (El Rico Habano, La Gloria Cubano, Los Statos De Luxe) in September.
On January 22, France’s Societe Nationale d’Exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et Allumettes, S.A. (SEITA) completes the purchase of Consolidated Cigar Corporation from Ron Perelman for about $730 million in cash and assumed debt. On December 17, a new company, Altadis S.A., is formed by the merger of SEITA and Spain’s Tabacalera S.A.
A new Davidoff factory is opened in Santiago, Dominican Republic, after the original complex was destroyed by fire in 1996.
A busy year in Cuba: the first Festival del Habano is held February 22-26 in Havana; the Cubans change their box codes; the Cuban warranty seal is modified with the introduction of red serial numbers and a new brand, San Cristobal de la Habana, is introduced. On October 14, Hurricane Irene rips through the island causing widespread damage to the tobacco curing barn infrastructure in the Pinar del Rio province.
After the fall, U.S. premium cigar imports rise slightly to 249.15 million, well down from the Boom, but nearly 250% of the figures for 1994!
On May 11, Swedish Match announces that it will purchase 64% of General Cigar with an option to acquire the rest of the company. On October 12, General Cigar closes the Cifuentes y Cia. factory in Kingston, Jamaica, the long-time home of Macanudo and Temple Hall. Production of these brands is moved to the Dominican Republic.
The Cuban cigar industry tries its third edition of box codes in 15 years, but this time with easyto-understand abbreviations for the month and year of production.
In October, Altadis S.A. buys a 50% stake in Habanos S.A., the distribution and marketing arm of the island’s cigar industry, for about $477 million.
In November, the Cubans introduce the Edicion Limitada series, a specific set of individual cigars from various brands to be produced in limited quantities and with two-year aged wrappers.
Ramon Cifuentes, one of the last living ties to the pre-Castro cigar industry in Cuba and once head of the Partagas Factory in Havana, dies in Madrid, Spain on January 3 at age 91. He left Cuba in 1961 and never returned.
Habanos S.A. introduces a new, machine-made brand called Guantanamera.
Hurricanes Isidore (Sepember 24) and Lili (October 2) hammer Cuba and wipe out more than 10,000 curing barns in the Vuelta Abajo area.
A smoking ban passes in Florida, so plans to hold the 2003 RTDA Convention and International Trade Show in Orlando are scrapped and the show is moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
The once-mighty Bering brand is sold by Swisher International to Nestor Plasenscia and will be distributed by Cigars by Santa Clara.
U.S. cigar imports rise for the third straight year to 274.57 million, with the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua accounting for 97.8% of the total.
U.S. cigar imports recede just slightly to 272.32 million, still fourth-best on record.
In Cuba, a fourth set of box codes is implemented, reported to be continuously changing so as to eliminate the ability of buyers to know what factory produced a specific box. In order to prevent counterfeiting, a holographic sticker was added to boxes of cigars sold in Cuba.
The historic H. Upmann factory in Havana was closed to cigar production and workers moved to a new, modern facility. The old building opened in 1944.
Altadis S.A. buys controlling interest in 800-JRCigar, Inc., owner of J-R Cigars and its wholesale division, Cigars by Santa Clara on October 10. Altadis can buy the remainder of the outstanding shares in 2008.
Alfred Dunhill of London closes all of its U.S. retail stores, most of which had richly-appointed humidors, at end of year except for its landmark New York store. Dunhill opened its first U.S. store in 1933, in New York.
Cigar maker C.A.O. opens its own factories in both Honduras and Nicaragua, both purchased from the Toraño family.
U.S. cigar imports take off, rising 13% above 2003 levels to 307.64 million, the best year ever excepting the two Boom years of 1997 and 1998.
Cubatabaco wins the first round of its trademark ownership suit over the Cohiba name. The decision is delivered on May 6 by U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet of the Southern District of New York.
U.S. Cigar Sales, Inc., owner of the Astral, Don Tomas and Helix brands (among others), is handed over to General Cigar (now a unit of Swedish Match) by its parent, U.S. Tobacco, as part of a settlement agreement to an antitrust action by Swedish Match over the marketing of smokeless tobacco.
U.S. premium cigar imports soar, surpassing 300 million units and landing at 329.53 million, third-best ever and an astonishing total considering the continued spread of smoking bans across the country.
On February 22, Swedish Match announced that it would acquire all remaining shares of General Cigar owned by the Pullman Family. The transaction was completed later in the year.
On February 24, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the District Court in the case of Empress Cubano del Tabaco (Cubatabaco) v. Culbro Corp., General Cigar Co., Inc. and General Cigar Holdings, Inc. and awarded ownership of the Cohiba trademark in the U.S. to General Cigar. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was promised by Cubatabaco.
Cigars imports into the U.S. continue strong, surpassing 300 million for the third year in a row at 311.0 million.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Cohiba trademark case, letting stand the Second Circuit decision awarding the use of the mark to General Cigar. At the RTDA show in Las Vegas, General introduced a new Cohiba line for the first time since 2001, Cohiba Black, featuring maduro wrappers.
Stanford Newman dies at age 90 in Tampa, Florida on August 17. Over his 72-year career, his father’s company, M&N Cigar Manufacturers, became a national force in cigars, popularizing the use of Cameroon leaf (1963), was one of the first to market first-quality cigars in bundles (1986) and introducing Arturo Fuente cigars to a national audience (1990). M&N Cigars, named for a 1927 merger between the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. and the Mendelsohn Cigar Co., returned to its roots and was renamed the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in 1997.
In Cuba, a new La Corona factory was opened in February, replacing the aging facility originally built in 1904. The new facility welcomed 760 employees, of whom 330 are cigar rollers. At the Festival del Habano, it was announced that the aged Romeo y Julieta factory has been closed and the staff will be moved to a new, to-be-constructed, 150,000-square foot facility. The old building has been turned into a central school for prospective cigar makers, consolidating schools currently housed in each individual factory.
With the election of Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua in November, Felipe Gregorio Tobacco World closes its manufacturing efforts in Condega, Nicaragua and moves all of its production to the Dominican Republic.
C.A.O. International was acquired effective January 1 by ST Cigar Group of The Netherlands, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Skandinavisk Tobakskompagni (Denmark) which makes small cigars including the well-known Nobel and Henri Wintermans brands. C.A.O. founder Cano Ozgener retires, with Gary Hyams installed as chairman and Tim Ozgener continuing as president.
The Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) changes its name to the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) at its 75th annual convention and trade show to better reflect the interests of its members.
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Leegin Creative Leather Products vs. PSKS, Inc. dba Kay’s Kloset (551 U.S. 877) makes it legal for manufacturers – including cigar manufacturers – to set minimum retail prices for their products. The decision – by a 5-4 vote – overturned a 1911 decision in Dr. Miles Medical Co. vs. John D. Park & Sons Co., (220 U.S. 373) in which the Court held that it is illegal “for a manufacturer to agree with its distributor to set the minimum price the distributor can charge for the manufacturer’s goods.”
After a long period of negotiation and discussion, Altadis, S.A. of Spain and France agrees in July to be acquired by Britain’s Imperial Tobacco for 50 Euro per share of about $17.2 billion.
On August 15, Swedish Match purchases U.S. cigar retailer Cigars International, giving it its first retail presence in two stores and a very large mail-order and Internet business in the U.S.
Altria, Inc., which is the parent company over cigarette giant Philip Morris, purchases Black & Mild cigar-maker John Middleton, Inc. in November for $2.9 billion in cash. At the time of acquisition, Middleton was selling 1.2 billion cigars a year worth about $360 million in annual revenues.
General Cigar acquired the handmade cigar business of Las Vegas, Nevada-based Havana Honeys, Inc. in December.
C.A.O. International takes over the distribution responsibilities of Torano Cigars, including the Dunhill and Dunhill Signed Range brands.
The Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress twice passes legislation to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by taxing tobacco. Federal taxes on cigars would rise from 4.875 cents each to $10 each in an initial version, but both bills (with $3-per-cigar Federal taxes) are vetoed by President George W. Bush.
U.S. cigar imports for the year rise to 335.2 million, up 7.8%, for the second-highest total in history, behind only the Cigar Boom year of 1997.
The acquisition of Altadis S.A. by Imperial Tobacco becomes effective as of January 25.
In February, British-American Tobacco (BAT) announced its purchase of Scandinavian Tobacco’s cigarette brands for $3.9 billion, leaving ST as primarily a cigar-making company, led by its Henri Wintermans and C.A.O. brands.
The first ProCigar Festival is held in the Dominican Republic from March 5-7, showcasing the world’s largest cigar-producing nation. Tours are held of the General Cigar Dominicana, La Aurora, MATASA and Tabadom factories, with some attendees adding on a tour of the Tabacalera de Garcia in La Romana at the end. A final-evening auction raised $50,000 U.S. for local charities.
Cigar Rights of America is formed in June as a grass-roots organization designed to represent the voice of the cigar enthusiast. Initial chairmen are Corona Cigar Company owner Jeff Borysiewicz (Orlando, Florida) and Keith Park (Commerce, California. A “Freedom Tour” to publicize the new organization is held in five states in August.
Daniel Miranda, 38, passes away after a three-year battle with brain cancer on August 22. Son of Miami Cigar & Co. founder Nestor Miranda, a special “Danno” cigar (7 inches by 56 ring) is created in his honor as part of the Nestor Miranda Special Selection line.
Tabacos Puros de Nicaragua, makers of the Joya de Nicaragua line, moves its distribution from S.A.G. Imports to Drew Estate.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, in an election-year publicity move, proposes an ordinance on August 8 that would ban smoking “in all public areas and common areas where people congregate including, but not limited to indoor and outdoor businesses, hotels, parks, apartment common areas, restaurants, bars, and beaches.” Furious opposition to other antismoking proposals in the City leave Parks’ proposal essentially dead.
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike pounded Cuba’s Pinar del Rio region from August 31-September 9, causing damage to about 800 tons of tobacco and partially or totally destroying a reported 3,414 curing bans. Most of the facilities were repaired or replaced in time for the 2009 tobacco harvest.
Altadis U.S.A. closes its Selma, Alabama cigar factory that turned out machine-made cigars, primarily the Phillies brand, since 1941 on December 5 due to lower demand. Some 213 workers lost their jobs and production was moved to Puerto Rico.
Davidoff of Geneva acquires Camacho Cigars on October 1, obtaining not only a major set of brands, but Camacho’s extensive tobacco farming and factory infrastructure in Honduras.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet rules in Empresa Cubana del Tabaco vs. Culbro Corporation (filed November 19) that a secondary cause of action filed by Habanos, S.A. against General Cigar in 1997 over ownership of the Cohiba trademark on New York state grounds (and originally dismissed in 2005) is valid and General’s claim to the Cohiba brand name should be eliminated. General Cigar immediately appeals.
Nobel Cigars, a unit of ST Group, acquires ownership of the Torano Cigars factories in Honduras and Nicaragua, but not the Torano brands or farmland, as of December 31.
U.S. premium-cigar imports dip to 271.2 million, down 19%, but a new tariff classification eliminates all little cigars from this count. Using the new standards, the drop-off from 2007 may have been only about 5%.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo decides to leave General Cigar and begin a new cigar venture with daughter Lissette and son Ernie. E.P. Carrillo debuts its first cigar, a limited-edition, in November.
U.S. President Barack Obama signs the SCHIP extension into law on February 4, with a 40.26- per-cigar tax-cap for large cigars and a $1.01-per-pack tax for cigarettes and little cigars effective on April 1.
Obama also signs the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” of 2009 on June 22, giving the U.S. Food & Drug Administration oversight of the U.S. tobacco industry. The bill also bans the sale of all flavored cigarettes (except menthol) after September 22.
First new blend for Cuba’s Montecristo brand since 1935 announced at the Festival del Habano in late February with the introduction of the Montecristo Open series.
Oettinger Imex, parent of Davidoff, announces its acquisition of DomRey, Inc. and its allied companies in June. Michael Chiusano’s DomRey group makes and/or distributes the Cusano, Cuvee, Perfect Cut, Agio and Panter lines.
Altadis U.S.A. closes its Hav-A-Tampa factory in Tampa at the end of August, ending production of that brand in the city of its birth after 107 years. About 495 jobs are lost and production is moved to Cayey, Puerto Rico.
New senior executives take the helm at General Cigar, where Dan Carr replaces Daniel Nunez in the second quarter, and at Altadis U.S.A., where 25-year incumbent Theo Folz is replaced by Gary Ellis on October 1.