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Richard L. DiMeola

Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Consolidated Cigar Corporation
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 31)

CA: You've been in the business for 40 years. You have lived in an industry which has gone through, in totality, enormous decline. You have been an executive in an industry which has been publicly denounced and beat up, and challenged on many social levels; and that has witnessed the cultural removal of cigar enjoyment--certainly when compared to 30, 40 or 50 years ago, when everybody who I ever meet, their father and grandfather smoked cigars. And now, of course, in California and New York you can't even have a nice meal and finish that evening smoking a cigar with your friend. It's pretty frustrating to the consumer--and to some of us, despicable. Where do you see the cigar market today from a social point of view, and what do you see happening in the next five or 10 years? Do you see more states like New York and California outlawing us--sending us into the streets? Do you see the pendulum coming back, where there's more reason and acceptance of cigar smoking? From your point of view, what do you see as the future for all of us?

DiMeola: I think there are more places where you can smoke a cigar publicly today than there have been in many years. When I started in the business, it was even legal to smoke a cigar on an elevator. We always tried to teach cigar smoking etiquette. And we always tried to teach the smoker not to smoke in an elevator when it was full. And to use common sense--and we're still preaching that in the cigar industry today.

In the '50s and the '60s, we all had restaurant programs to try to get humidors in restaurants, because we felt there were captive consumers there; if they forgot their cigars, they had to buy them at the restaurant, because everyone smoked after a meal. That's the best time to enjoy a good cigar. And we felt that it was brand-building when you had to buy from the restaurant, even if you were paying more money. It was your brand you wanted them to smoke as a sampling.

Then we saw this change to the point where every restaurant--and this is something I really didn't understand--most restaurants put it on their menus: No Cigar or Pipe Smoking Allowed. They were allowed to smoke a cigarette, but not a cigar. And it got to the point where--I mean this happened to me once--I was in a certain room of a restaurant, and I took out a cigar and I was just holding it. It wasn't lit, and some person in the other room complained that, "He has a cigar." But I'm not smoking it! "Well, he's going to smoke it," she said. That was the bottom.

Today, here we are in the city of New York, and it has a no smoking law in public places. I think of cigar bars--there are four or five of them in the city. As a result, the restaurateurs are suffering. Take a scenario where five or six people have a business meeting and then they want to go out to dinner. Well, if they're cigar smokers, they'll go to the cigar bar and they'll have a cocktail and smoke a cigar before dinner. Then they'll go have their dinner. Then they'll leave the restaurant and go back to the cigar bar for their coffee, Cognac and cigar; so a $600 bill becomes a $300 bill for the restaurant.

CA: When they can, a lot of restaurants, especially today, try to offer cigars. A lot of them can't.

DiMeola: Agreed. But now this is happening all over the country. In Fort Lauderdale, where our headquarters is located, there is a restaurant called Smoke that caters to cigar smoking. It's been so successful [the owner has] opened up his second floor, which he calls Up In Smoke, which is like a nightclub. Nick's Fish Market just opened an atrium in Boca Raton for cigar smoking. It's happening all over America. So there are more places to smoke a cigar today then ever before. And I think that that trend is definitely going to continue.

CA: So do you believe then that, in spite of a number of restrictions that cities and states are placing on smoking, because of consumer demand there are a number of outlets opening and that this will continue, bringing about a wider selection of locales for people to enjoy their pastime?

DiMeola: This is a government for the people, by the people. And as consumers become more and more interested in wanting to have a place to smoke, then governments are going to have to allow them to do it.

CA: 1990: 100 million premium handmade cigars; 1995, 170 million. The year 2000?

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