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Cigar Truths

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Liev Schreiber, November/December 2013

Will the government and the media ever stop lumping premium handrolled cigars together with products like machine-made and flavored cigars? That seems to be their aim. There have been recent news reports about the Food and Drug Administration’s moves toward imposing more regulations on all tobacco products, including cigars. One New York Times article was headlined “In all Flavors, Cigars Draw in Young Smokers.”

That misleads the public. Cigars cannot be defined or described as a single category. A premium, handrolled cigar has nothing in common with a machine-made, fruit-flavored cigar, except they both contain tobacco.

Let us be clear. We do not rate flavored cigars or any type of machine-made cigar. We only test handcrafted, premium cigars that grace the tasting reports in Cigar Aficionado. The cigars we focus on are crafted slowly by hand from well-aged tobaccos. Flavored cigars are made and marketed in ways that would appear foreign to any reader of this magazine. They sell for low prices mostly at convenience type stores and appeal to a different demographic.

Unfortunately, two very different groups are trying to lump the luxury, higher-priced handrolled cigars together with all other types of cigars. The tobacco control advocates have turned the T in tobacco into the scarlet letter of the 21st Century. To them, tobacco is tobacco and there should be no distinction between tobacco products. For these anti-tobacco folks, the dangers of using tobacco products are the same and should be regulated to the point of prohibition.

On the other side, interestingly enough, are the purveyors of cigarettes, and machine-made cigars. They want premium handrolled cigar companies to be subject to the same restrictions imposed on cigarettes, or any new FDA rules that might be aimed at the machine-made category. They argue that since all tobacco products taste of something, they are all flavored, so if you ban flavorings, then you have to ban premium cigars.

We’ve even been told that some people have used Cigar Aficionado’s tasting notes as proof that flavors exist in all cigars. Let us be clear again: There is a 180-degree separation between artificial flavorings and words used as descriptors to try to identify the naturally occurring tastes in tobacco.

We presented our position to the FDA in a hearing early this summer. While we agreed to keep that meeting off the record, we don’t feel we are violating that agreement by repeating some of the same things that we have said since Cigar Aficionado was launched in 1992. The typical consumer of handrolled cigars is an adult with a median age over 40, they smoke fewer than one a cigar a day (actually the vast majority average three to four a week) and more than 90 percent never inhale. The manufacturers of these products do not target underage smokers, or inner-city smokers, and never have, and they support the brick and mortar tobacconist as much as possible because it automatically creates a regulated environment where cigars are sold.

That’s the bottom line. Premium handrolled cigars are an adult product used in moderation, and given their average price, are not attractive to young people. Those facts support our belief they should not be subject to the same restrictions as other tobacco products.

That’s the truth.

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