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Cigar Consumption in America: The Facts

Marvin R. Shanken
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95

History and government statistics tell us that the premium cigar market in America can be categorized into two eras: pre- and post-Cigar Aficionado magazine.

The first era saw total cigar sales in the United States decline steadily from a 1964 high of nearly nine billion, a peak that coincided with the Surgeon General's 1964 report on smoking, to about 2 billion cigars by 1992. The trend was a steady four to five percent annual decline over nearly three decades. Nice time to start a cigar magazine...right?

The second era really began at about the same time as the launch of Cigar Aficionado magazine; that is, September 1992. What did the magazine do? It filled a void that every cigar lover had complained about--that there wasn't a reliable source of information about cigars. The magazine responded to that need with in-depth articles and cigar tastings. Still, there was nothing that suggested a magazine focused on cigars could be successful.

After all, for the decade preceding the magazine's launch, premium cigar shipments to the United States held steady at around 100 million cigars annually. In fact, according to U.S. government statistics, while 101 million premium cigars were imported in 1981, only 99 million cigars were imported in 1992; in other words, there was no growth over this 12-year period. But in 1993, imports rose to 109 million cigars, the first such surge in years. In 1994, shipments registered another major increase, totaling 125 million cigars. That's an increase of 26 million cigars, a 27-percent gain, in the most recent two-year period.

As most frustrated cigar lovers know all too well, the latter half of 1994 saw numerous out-of-stock situations for our favorite smokes. By 1995, the better tobacconists around the country were back ordered on many sizes of the better cigar brands. In conversations with leading premium cigar manufacturers, we now know that the back orders today run from one to six million cigars for each major company. Total back orders are estimated at 20 to 25 million cigars. Not included in these numbers, obviously, are the estimated six million Cuban cigars purchased by Americans and stored outside the United States or smuggled in. If you add those numbers, the projected U.S. demand for premium handmade cigars is around 150 million cigars today--50 percent higher than two short years ago.

What has changed? It's easy to find various explanations. Younger men have discovered cigars for the first time. Veteran smokers are experimenting with a wider variety of brands. Women have started smoking cigars. Despite the number of new antismoking laws, the advent of cigar dinners and cigar events have actually increased the number of places smokers can enjoy a hand-rolled cigar. And, finally, many people view cigars as a very public statement that they want to freely enjoy one of life's great pleasures. Whatever the reason, it all adds up to a boom for the premium cigar industry.

Cigar Aficionado has helped take cigars from the back rooms, and put them back on the front page. About a year ago, I wrote about the incredible media focus on cigars, from newspaper and magazines to television. It hasn't stopped. If anything, the media attention has increased. Public figures, everyone from Bill Cosby and Rush Limbaugh to Bill Clinton and Jack Nicholson and many others, are suddenly more willing to talk about cigars, or even be seen and photographed with one in their hands.

The change was evident in spades on March 1 in Washington, D.C., at our Big Smoke Rally in Lafayette Park. Men and women gathered there for a celebration of the cigar. There was no shouting, no chants, no unruly behavior, just good citizens exercising their right to enjoy a cigar. That's a sign of things to come. Cigar smoking is back from a long exile. Even if you can't yet always enjoy a good smoke in your favorite restaurant or public place, the stigma attached to being a cigar lover may finally be ending.

We have good reason to smile and light up.

Marvin R. Shanken
Editor and Publisher

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