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Cigars in the Newsroom

Cigars are a hot story with local TV newscasters.

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For Gerald Kolpan, a feature reporter at Philadelphia's WTXF who says he smokes one cigar a day "in a good week," being in the news business has led to many good cigar experiences. He and some colleagues decided that the best way to get to smoke cigars was to set aside the time.

"It's called 'The First Wednesday Cigar Club.' There're only two positions in this club: the president, who I am, and a bag man. The bag man is the guy who goes to Holt's [cigar store in Philadelphia] and pays for the cigars, and then you pay him for the cigars. We only have two rules: you pay for your food and drink and you take all your fights outside. This is at the Pen and Pencil Club, which is the oldest press club in the United States of America. We give [Holt's] the amount of money we want to spend per person, then we call it in and let them make the decisions. They make up a package and we pick it up. There's two cigars per guy."

Kolpan, who likes Avos, Ashton Cabinets and Holt's house brand, has reported his share of stories about the surge in cigar smoking and cigar dinners. "I did a story the day Dunkin' Donuts banned smoking," he recalls, "which I did with cigar in hand. I have been seen on the air periodically with a cigar in my hand. Of course, the station doesn't like to do too much of that because then they're seen as encouraging what some people would consider to be not a very good habit, and as we know anything done to excess is bad."

Political reporter Scott Talan doesn't have much time to enjoy more than five or so cigars a week, much less smoke to excess.

"I barely have time for lunch. In the daytime I don't even have time to smoke. It's like after hours, after work, weekends," says Talan of KCPM in Chico, California. He received some on-the-job training for his reporter post when he served as mayor of Lafayette, California, at the age of 29. "What I first started smoking cigars, I started hearing about these smaller cigars and I said, 'Well, who would ever want to smoke those?' But now I find with my time constraints that a smaller, shorter cigar is the way to go."

Talan likes the robusto-sized Punch, Partagas and Hoyo de Monterrey, which he tends to smoke around midnight. "It allows me to both relax and focus," he says. "You're almost doing nothing, but at the same time you're doing something very conscious, the act of smoking, that clears everything away."

Washington's John Harter agrees, adding that cigars make an otherwise routine event a little bit special. "Last night, a producer who sits next to me, who's a friend, had a really tough day," Harter recalls. "He says, 'Will you stop and have a drink with me? I just want to talk.' So, we went to a place on Connecticut Avenue, where another producer joined us. One smokes cigarettes and the other one doesn't smoke, and I broke out some cigars. Each had a cigar and it really made that pause better. You can't describe why, but it really did."

Alejandro Benes is a journalist in Washington, D.C.

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