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Young Aficionados

Cigar Smoking Is Hot with the Twentysomething Crowd, Which Agrees: It Is More Than a Fad
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 1)

Across the country cigars are enjoying a vogue on many other college campuses. In the East, at Dartmouth, cigars have become an integral part of the weekend party scene. According to Gabriel Schlumberger, a junior studying film and political science, the pinnacle of undergraduate chic today is ordering fine cigars by the box from high-quality specialists like the Owl Shop in New Haven, Connecticut. "I see it at Dartmouth and many other campuses on the East Coast," he says. "And this summer I saw it at the University of Texas in Austin. Everyone there seems to be into cigars."

Catherine St. John, owner of the Owl Shop, confirms the trend. "Young people, and especially women, are now smoking fine cigars," she says. "We get a lot of students from Yale and a lot of faculty." Students from other universities, she says, order boxes of cigars by mail or by phone, and they are not ordering cheap cigars. "Even students are buying $4 and $5 cigars," says St. John, who has been at the Owl Shop for 62 years. "There has definitely been a change in mores."

Mark Grossich, the co-owner of Bar and Books, a group of upscale cigar lounges in New York City, agrees, and he says the shift in mores is quite visible among young professionals in their 20s. "Our clientele tends to be people in their late 20s and up, but the crowds are getting younger and younger," Grossich says. "And we are seeing more and more young women smoking cigars. We had 125 women at a smoker in June." At his cigar lounges, such as The Cigar Bar at Beekman Bar and Books, Grossich offers 14 brands of high-quality cigars, along with a selection of fine Ports, Cognacs and single malt whiskeys. Like Funk at Northwestern, Grossich sees a diverse group, all drawn together by their common interest in fine cigars. "We see young, old, male, female. What we're seeing is people all enjoying cigars for pretty much the same reasons."

Adam Cohen is a typical case. Cohen, 26, works at Q104.3 FM, a hard rock music station in New York City. Like many of his friends at the station and in the music world, he was drawn to cigar smoking because it was trendy. "In the beginning, cigars were the nouveau, 'in' thing to do," he says. "Now, six months later, I'm an avid smoker simply because I enjoy it. The more I learn about cigars, the more I enjoy tasting different makes and varieties, trying to see what's bigger and better. In that sense, cigar smoking is a lot like wine drinking."

Whoa, now. Cohen belongs to a generation that is extremely savvy about health, nutrition and exercise, a generation that for years has been bombarded with warnings, from President Clinton on down, about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Cohen, furthermore, lives in a city where smoking is not just frowned upon, but banned in many public places. As Cohen and every other cigar smoker knows, antismoking sentiment in New York runs so high that if you light up anywhere in public--even at Yankee Stadium or strolling through Central Park--you may well be accosted by strangers demanding you stop at once. So what gives here? Is Adam Cohen an angry rebel? Or self-destructive?

Hardly. "I would never consider smoking a cigarette," Cohen says. But few of his friends balk when he lights up a cigar; they find the ethos, ethics and smell of cigar smoking by no means offensive. Most of the women he dates do not complain either: "I'm going out now with women who light up themselves and are eager to try a fine cigar."

Young smokers like Cohen translate into good business for Manhattan cigar shops like Arnold's Tobacco Shop on Madison Avenue. "We sell a lot of cigars to the twenties group," says owner Bruce Goldstein, whose grandfather started the business in 1911. "That's our future. These young people are joining the market, they like it, and they're interested in quality cigars. Five years ago, the trend didn't exist."

According to Goldstein, today's young aficionados are well-educated about cigars and usually buy individual cigars, so they can experiment and broaden their knowledge. "They'll buy 10, 15, even 20 cigars at a time. Different brands, different sizes, different shades of wrapper," Goldstein says. "They're experimenting and they're not as set in their ways as cigar smokers used to be. They're the future of our business. You're planting the seed for the next five or 10 years."

San Francisco may be on the other side of the continent, but the attitudes driving young cigar aficionados there are remarkably similar to those on the East Coast. Michael Pelusi, manager of the Alfred Dunhill shop just off Union Square, is seeing the same cigar boom among young people, especially young professional women. Last August, Pelusi sponsored a "Women Only" smoker in his shop to help raise money for a local shelter for battered women, and he drew 35 professional women, many of them lawyers and many of them avid cigar smokers. San Francisco, like New York, has placed heavy restrictions on smoking in restaurants. Additionally, there is an aggressive antismoking strain running through many sectors of San Francisco society. But you'd never know it from that night at Dunhill's.

"These people have clearly made their decisions in life," Pelusi observes, as the women eagerly sampled Macanudos and Temple Hall No. 3 Trumps. "They've decided what makes them happy and they are not going to give up the pleasure of smoking cigars because of any antismoking legislation or attitudes."


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