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Cigar Lovers Invade Vegas

By Gordon Mott , Marvin R. Shanken | From Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

The Big Smoke Las Vegas at Bally's on the Nov. 1 weekend confirmed one thing: the cigar renaissance is here to stay. More than 4,000 people attended the two nights of Big Smokes, and the day-long seminars on Saturday attracted 500 people to a packed auditorium. The Sunday cigar and lifestyle sessions saw nearly 300 in attendance. That's exciting, and it was very stimulating to hear the sophisticated level of questions by the audience to the panels of cigar experts, and the audience's intense desire to learn about the world of cigars.

Here are some of the tidbits that came out of the weekend:

* There was a general consensus that a government report on cigar smoking (by the time you read this, the report may be published) is going to be presented in as biased a way as possible. There will be a media blitz that is going to suggest that any level of cigar smoking is harmful; no middle ground or acceptable level of smoking will be acknowledged. Get ready to emphasize the fact that the vast majority of cigar smokers today only smoke in moderation, one a day or less, a far cry from the two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker that is cited in so many of the government studies of smoking.

* Many of the marginal brands that have appeared on the market in the past 12 months are about to disappear, or they will be sold very shortly through the large mail-order discount houses. Retailers everywhere are reporting that those new brands, many of which retail for $7 to $10, are not moving off their shelves. And the retailers are not reordering from the manufacturers. Those manufacturers are selling off their inventory to the discounters.

* The major manufacturers such as Consolidated Cigar and General Cigar continue to say that back orders are a problem for them, and retailers are selling as much of their product as they can get. Richard DiMeola, the chief operating officer of Consolidated, talked about back orders in the two million to three million range for some of his brands. Austin McNamara, the president of General Cigar, cited $100 million in back orders. The Arturo Fuente family says it doesn't even keep track of back orders; they are just trying to ship regularly to their accounts (they have not opened a new account in more than two years), and they know those cigars sell out quickly. In other words, the demand for the best cigars in the marketplace hasn't abated.

* John Oliva, the president of Oliva Tobacco Co., acknowledged that weather-related problems in Ecuador, Central America and Connecticut are going to reduce the supplies of quality wrapper leaves during the next 12 to 18 months. He also said that because of the consistent rain in Ecuador, most of the wrappers from that country are spotted--good, but spotted. Consumers, he said, should be ready to expand the notion of what constitutes an acceptable wrapper, because even though the wrappers will have spots, they will still taste very good.

When all was said and done, however, the most consistent message was unavoidable: we've come a long way. The crowd in Las Vegas covered all ages, both men and women. That mix of people was true not only at the Big Smokes but at the seminars, too. That's a sign of just how broad-based the cigar renaissance has become, and what a solid future there is for cigar smoking in America.

Marvin R. Shanken
Editor & Publisher