Smoking in Peace
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"Women seem to have taken it up as a cause," Wine says. "But there are so many good, important causes for women, I wish they'd concentrate on those instead."
A number of famous women were cigar smokers--Virginia Woolf, Amy Lowell and George Sand among them--and it was Sand herself who said, "The cigar numbs sorrow and fills the solitary hours with a million gracious images." But the hostility of many women today toward cigars is often so virulent and so unreasonable--and some women are so eager to make spectacles of themselves in order to lodge their protests as dramatically as possible--that I'm convinced they're not motivated purely by dislike of the smell or by fear of the possible health hazard. Maybe there's something so symbolically, so resolutely masculine about cigars that the very sight of one--the very idea of one--enrages certain women. These women may see the cigar as emblematic of the abhorrently sexist discrimination, exploitation and exclusivity that many men have long practiced and that women have had to fight hard to overcome.
According to a study commissioned by CIGAR AFICIONADO, 99 percent of all premium cigar smokers surveyed are men, and the average household income of cigar smokers in this group is $194,000. Their average net worth is $1.5 million. They travel abroad, drink vintage wine, own more than one car, collect antiques, wear expensive watches. A disproportionate number of them are presidents, CEOs and possessors of advanced college degrees. In other words, they've made it. And a good cigar--an expensive cigar--is proof of that success, success that has long been unfairly denied to most women.
Lew Rothman, president of JR Tobacco Co., thinks too many people today are foolishly buying some cigars, expensive cigars, purely because they represent success--status. In essence, he says, all cigars that are hand made with long filler and 100 percent natural tobacco are about equal in quality, so people who buy expensive cigars are really buying image, not greater smoking pleasure.
Although Rothman says that approximately 20 million of the 50 million cigars he sells annually cost more than $1.50 each--and he sells one, the Partagas Regal, for $6.37--he thinks anyone who spends more than $1.50 for a cigar is "stupid." He insists that $1.50 "should get you anything you want unless it's a very, very large cigar; then I'd say $1.75 or $1.80." Rothman says he's "flabbergasted by people who spend $8 to $ 10 for a cigar. I can't believe that people who are bright enough to make the money to be able to afford those cigars are stupid enough to waste it on them."
Other tobacconists insist that there are enormous variations in the quality of both tobacco and craftsmanship that justify higher prices for some cigars, but Rothman is certainly right that in cigars, as in so many other consumer products, many people "equate cost with quality."
It may also be the case, however, that because even dedicated cigar smokers smoke fewer cigars now--thanks to the various restrictions and inhibitions imposed by law and by society--they are smoking better, more expensive cigars. In a sense, less is more. And while five cigars a day at $8 a pop can be an expensive habit, five cigars a week at $8 a pop may--for some--be a manageable self-indulgence rather than a major extravagance.
"Back when I started out, you couldn't buy a super premium," says Ben Henderson of Lone Star Tobacco in Houston. "Now they've caught on really well." Paul Macdonald, owner of the David P. Ehrlich shop in Boston, says super premiums have caught on so well that the Davidoffs from the Dominican Republic "exceeded my expectations three times over." Some tobacconists who specialize in premium cigars have also begun providing their own "smoking lounges" or "smoking clubs" to attract customers and give them a place to enjoy their purchases. Nazareth Guluzian, proprietor of the Beverly Hills cigar store that bears his name, originally had a couple of armchairs for customers, then found the demand so great that he put in sofas, added espresso and Cognac and created a private cigar-smokers club; he leased another small store a few yards away to accommodate the actual retail business. Three blocks away, the Davidoff store that opened last fall also plans a smoking club--upstairs, with leather armchairs and sofas, espresso and Cognac--a setting in which smokers can relax and indulge themselves without fear that someone nearby will break into a splenetic rage at the mere sight of a stogie.
The same societal pressures that have led smokers to seek these havens--and to attend special cigar dinners and to smoke more expensive cigars--may also help explain why many now smoke smaller cigars than they used to; they have to finish them while driving or walking to work, rather than in their office or at lunch or dinner, as in previous generations. But tobacconists say their customers are also smoking larger cigars, with bigger ring gauges, because when they can smoke, they want to luxuriate in it.
"What you're seeing," Rothman says, "is a movement away from the middle, to both smaller and larger cigars."
Mirroring trends toward lighter foods and alcoholic beverages--white wine rather than martinis--some (though by no means all) tobacconists simultaneously note a drift toward milder cigars.
Of course, size, shape and taste are matters of individual preference. Several of my friends love the feel of a panatela in their hand, for example, but Christopher Kuhl of Davidoff says, "Smoking a panatella is like drinking Mouton Rothschild through a straw."
Well, I happen to like both panatellas and Mouton, and given some of the neo-Prohibitionist sentiment I've sensed recently, I'm beginning to worry that some do-badders may soon try to make it as difficult for people to drink wine as they have made it for people to smoke cigars. I'm not quite sure why we have become a nation of blue-nosed busybodies--although I'm sure our Puritan heritage is part of it--but I wish the Moral Police would just leave me alone. If they'll let me smoke my cigar (and drink my wine) in peace, I'll promise not to blow smoke in their direction, not to drink and drive ... and not to complain about their smelly cigarettes, their sinus-clogging perfume... or their stupefying ignorance of the finer things in life.