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Now, I am not suggesting that we become deluged with monotonous statistics every time a writer or columnist wants to impress a meaningful story upon the reader. However, if a writer is going to go on record to expound a personal belief, he or she better be prepared to defend the article.

Allow me to explain some interesting facts that the public rarely hears: The American Cancer Society states that the general population's chances of getting cancer are one in four to one in five over a 70-year lifetime. This means that 200,000 to 250,000 cases of cancer can be expected in a population of one million.

A one-in-a-million (.0001 percent) chance of contracting cancer is considered by many in the medical community to be an insignificant risk and is used as a benchmark. One may be surprised to learn that an increase in cancer risk from eating just one tablespoon of peanut butter is 140 in 1 million. That is to say, 140 additional cases of cancer (not necessarily deaths) may be expected from 1 million people eating a single tablespoon of peanut butter! Does this mean we should be alarmed about the consequences of eating peanut butter? Absolutely not! Foreknowledge of the matter would dictate that we eat peanut butter in moderation. The point here is that the cancer risk from eating peanut butter is not exactly highly politicized. Note that a quantity was assigned to peanut butter that correlates to a carcinogenic risk. I rarely see in published articles any statistics that show the correlation between the frequency of smoking cigars [and] an oral cancer risk. I do not know what the oral cancer risk is from smoking cigars, but common sense dictates that, like peanut butter, I moderate my intake of cigars.

I will digress for a minute and describe my weekly cigar ritual. My wife is a registered nurse who works on weekends, so I am the lone caretaker of our two very active children (ages 3 and 6) during that time. As any parent can tell you, raising children is a very rewarding but exhausting endeavor. By around dinnertime Saturday or Sunday, I start to contemplate my cigar selection from the humidor. Shall it be a Savinelli ELR tonight? Or, how about a Flor De Florez Cabinet Selection? A Fuente Fuente OpusX never fails to deliver. Such a tough decision to make! After I dutifully put the kids to bed, I pour myself a glass of fine Port, retreat to the patio outside (no secondhand smoke to consider here), light up, and, as James Woods said in an issue of Cigar Aficionado, "take stock in things." Ah, what mental relaxation and subliminal pleasure I derive from smoking a fine cigar!

Now, does having an occasional cigar make me a statistical aberration which does not fit the norm of a "typical" cigar smoker that is the focus of epidemiological studies? I do not know. The published articles will not tell me. All I know is that the health police, despite my adherence to a healthy lifestyle, would have me believe that my indulgence in a weekly cigar significantly increases my risk factors. In a larger perspective this is unfortunate, for widespread public concern and perceived risk (public opinion) will strongly influence public policy and legislative action, even without concrete scientific validation for the position taken. Magazine writers and columnists would do well to heed this, lest they may someday find a warning label on their favorite jar of peanut butter.

Mark C. Searfoss
Eastampton, New Jersey

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Dear Marvin,

I work for an engineering firm, and one day it seemed I was getting more than my share of flak about schedule and budget busts. By lunchtime I had been in two and a half hours of meetings and had my rear chewed on a couple of times for something that was out of my control. To make matters worse, the lead engineer on the project was trying to get me to do some out-of-sequence work that was really not in my scope to do. (It was one of those projects that we refer to as something similar to "sewage details." He didn't want to do it, and rather than taking the criticism himself, was trying to pawn it off on me.)

I left for lunch a little early that day and went out to my vehicle to get a smoke. I opened the small travel humidor that I keep in the console and, to my surprise, found it empty. I thought of just blowing off the idea of having a good smoke, but my judgment got the better of me. A friend of mine had told me about a little shop that sells sporting goods and accessories, a few blocks away from the office. He also said they had a nice-sized walk-in humidor; I figured I would give them a try. I walked in and found that their humidor was nearly as large as the shop itself.

I browsed a little at the golf shirts and some old wooden clubs they had before stepping into the humidor. I then spent another 15 or 20 minutes perusing their cigar selection. I picked up a couple of different cigars, along with a Dominican Cohiba. This Cohiba was one of those small ones that I like to refer to as a walk-the-dog-type cigar, in which you can take a short walk and enjoy a short smoke without having to put it out later.

I lit my Cohiba and crawled into my truck. I still had nearly 30 minutes to kill, so I drove around a bit, enjoying my smoke. About 15 minutes later, I realized that I had not eaten yet and thought that a burger was in order. The only place nearby was one of those places with the big "M" outside. I pulled up to the line with five or six cars in front of me, and as I was about to flip out my stogie, I put my left hand up on the roof of my truck and felt this sharp pain in my palm. I looked at my palm to see a bee trying to pull his stinger out. I smashed him into the top of the windowsill.

I had not been stung by a bee in probably 20 years or more, and forgot what a surprise those little guys can give a person. I thought for a moment and remembered that my grandfather would put tobacco on a sting to take out the "pop." I bit off the end of my little Cohiba and made a tobacco poultice to put in my palm. In a couple of minutes the sting was gone and I was munching on a burger, on my way back to the office. Not only had that little cigar been used for psychological purposes, but medicinal as well.

Scott R. Nelson
Olathe, Kansas

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Dear Marvin,

A few years ago, still in high school, my best friend, E. B., and I would sit outside our chemistry teacher's door after lunch and imagine the perfect trip to New York City. We both share the same passion for cigars, food and good living in general. Now, if you consider two teenagers in São Paulo, Brazil, planning a trip to NYC unrealistic....

Five years later, our day finally comes. Our two days in NYC included Le Cirque, La Cote Basque, Aida at the Met, cigar clubs and even Cuban Davidoffs! More important than any of those pleasures was that our plans, after many years of waiting, were coming true. I was there and with the company of a great friend. Somehow, I feel that all of these interesting happenings would not have been the same without his good company. The food would not have been so absolutely great, Pons would have missed a couple notes, the Davidoffs would have been a bit too dry...even if everything was perfect.

I just hope that E. B. and I have many more opportunities for such pleasurable, enjoyable and unforgettable moments. Maybe next time, and hopefully richer, we might also bring our best girfriends!!!

T. M.
São Paulo, Brazil

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 24-year-old African-American male who absolutely loves the taste of an occasional cigar. One day while in school I saw a couple of gentlemen smoking outside. I decided that it would be nice to join them; after all, fellow smokers should stick together. As I walked over and introduced myself, it became very obvious that they did not appreciate my company. I tried to converse but I was very abruptly cut off and then ignored.

I moved to the side and felt very upset over what had occurred. I hoped that it was not due to my race that this incident happened, but I knew it was. The only thing on my mind was how to handle the situation. A late friend of mine once told me, "When you smoke a cigar, relax. Use it as a form of meditation and relate to your surroundings; but most importantly, always be calm." The same man helped me to achieve my goals, even though my surroundings did not allow me to move ahead.

The point--I was very upset after this incident occurred. I was in a new environment with a lot of people that came from very different social and ethnic backgrounds. I grew up in public housing in New York and they in the suburbs, but my late friend taught me that there is no obstacle too high for me to conquer; I am everything I want to be and more. Most importantly, he taught me how to use a cigar at the time of this incident. I guess Don Tomás prevented a situation from getting ugly. Thank you, Don Tomás.

Donnell Nichols
United States Navy

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Dear Marvin,

Thank you for the informative article on the Great Wall of China cigar dinner, which was published in the December 1998 issue of Cigar Aficionado. We are very pleased that your magazine was able to cover this unique and special event, which was organized by The Palace Hotel, a Peninsula Group property.

While we have normally hosted cigar dinners at our Roma Ristorante Italiano, this was the first attempt by The Palace Hotel or anyone else ever to bring such an event to the Great Wall. It might interest your readers to get a glimpse behind the scenes.

After receiving the Chinese official nod to use this particular section of the Great Wall (a not-so-minor achievement in itself), there were the logistics involved in putting together cocktails and a six-course, black-tie dinner with premium Champagne, fine wines and three varieties of cigars for 90 people in a location some two hours away from civilization.

Our food and beverage manager, Robert Logan, and executive chef, Daniel Lichtensteiger, plus a hotel staff of 50, had to put together an on-site kitchen piecemeal early during the day. Power generators, a grand piano and portable loos were just a few of the items that were likewise hauled over the arduous steps. Over the course of the dinner, the chef's creativity and culinary skills were matched by the service staff's muscle power in climbing the steps of the Great Wall, bearing the artfully arranged dishes.

Peter L.J. Finamore,
General Manager
The Palace Hotel, Beijing

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Dear Marvin,

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