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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

What to make of Tammy Fogler?

Fogler, 24, is in her second year of law school at Northwestern University in Chicago. She is bright, energetic and, like many young people today, extremely health-conscious. She eats carefully, never smokes cigarettes and works out regularly, both at the health club and in the ring, sparring a few rounds with men who share her enthusiasm for muay-Thai, an Asian form of boxing. After a grueling final exam, though, or after a stressful session preparing for the Illinois bar, what Fogler enjoys most is a fine cigar.

"For me, at the most basic level, it's an easy way to relax and unwind," Fogler says. "After finals, I always have a cigar evening. I treat it as a sort of retreat. That's my time to sit and unwind, or to have a great conversation."

Is Tammy Fogler some sort of rebel, a swaggering iconoclast out to jam a stogie in the eye of Chicago's legal establishment? Hardly. Today, with fine cigars enjoying a wave of popularity across America, Fogler is just one of a growing legion of young aficionados who are sweeping away the notion that cigar smoking is a pleasure confined to middle-aged men in stuffy clubs or disreputable saloons. Indeed, from Northwestern to Dartmouth, from Yale to UCLA, fine cigars and cigar clubs have become the rage on many American campuses. Likewise, among many young, twentysomething professionals from Manhattan to San Francisco, fine cigars have become high chic, an emblem of sophistication, good taste and an independent spirit.

"Cigars are on a huge upswing," says John Rucci, the beverage manager at the elegant Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. "Young people in Beverly Hills, and in Los Angeles in general, are very attuned to what's hip and what's trendy, and cigars have become very big. The trend now is young people and women. Women are smoking a lot of cigars today, good cigars. In fact, I'd say that for many young people, cigars have become the social accessory of the '90s."

For the young today, cigar smoking surely is wrapped up with what's hip and trendy. But in scores of interviews with young cigar smokers and observations at the establishments they frequent, the phenomenon apparently has deeper, more complicated roots.

"It seems that for many people of my generation, cigars have become a kind of counterculture thing," says Markus Funk, one of the founders of the Cigar Aficionados Club (no connection with this magazine) at Northwestern University School of Law. "In a place like law school, cigars can be a real ice-breaker, socially, and cigar clubs enable people with an individualized taste to get together and do something they like."

Fogler's experience with cigars is in many ways typical. She did not grow up in some fashionable corner of Manhattan or Los Angeles. She grew up in Middle America, in the quiet, conservative town of Bloomington-Normal, in central Illinois. Her grandfather smoked a pipe, and an uncle and an aunt smoked cigars. Fogler never took to smoking, either in high school or in her first years at Illinois Wesleyan. Senior year in college, though, she found herself drawn to cigars. "What drew me was the smell," she says. "The smell of the tobacco gave me good feelings and associations." After a long day of classes and studying, she would often go onto a dormitory roof at night and smoke a cigar: "I found it very calming, very peaceful."

During her first year of law school, Fogler met Funk when he was starting the cigar club. Members of the club would gather at a bar or restaurant near the campus, smoke cigars and talk about the law, what they planned to do with their lives, or just about the Chicago Cubs or Bears. The club had no political or social agenda, though some of its members shared a common antagonism toward political correctness on campus. "Generally, it was just a very nice mingling of people," Fogler says, and when word of the club spread around the law school, many other women eagerly joined.

"People make the assumption that cigars mean white guys sitting around in fancy clubs with overstuffed chairs," says Funk. "But the Aficionados Club is not at all like that. It's whites, blacks, men, women, liberals, conservatives, whatever. It's really a hodgepodge. It's one of the [few] nonpolitical clubs on campus."

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