Cigar Prices, Then And Now
It is September 1992. The leaves are changing color, the air is crisp—the perfect weather to smoke a cigar. A car passes by and the new single from Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain,” is playing loudly over the radio. You amble over to your local cigar shop to grab something special to complete this perfect autumn day. As you make your way around the store, you peruse the small selection on the shelves and behind the glass counters. Many of the cigars are on the thinner side and are clad in light Connecticut shade wrappers. Some of them retail for less than $2—just a bit cheaper than a pound of coffee at the time.
In this shop, there are a variety in terms of brands, but to a visitor from the future it would look sparse by comparison, far less expansive as it will be in 30 years’ time. Popular mainstays of today like Rocky Patel, Alec Bradley or Drew Estate do not yet exist. Padrón is not the nationally recognized brand it is now, just a single line that could only be purchased in Miami. Its classic 1964 Anniversary Series is still two years away and Arturo Fuente’s iconic OpusX will not be launched until a year after that. La Gloria Cubana is a small, Miami brand owned by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, who will not start making cigars under his own name for 17 more years.
Some of the brands on these shelves are now gone, but many have withstood the test of time, including Arturo Fuente, Macanudo, H. Upmann, Davidoff and La Gloria Cubana. All five, and more, appear in a curious new magazine you spotted a fellow cigar lover poring over in the shop’s lounge, called Cigar Aficionado . . .
This is the cigar world of 30 years ago. A lot has changed since then. Connecticut shade now stands in the shadow of the darker leaves which are more commonly used as wrappers. Cigar thicknesses of 60 ring gauge or higher, once considered an oddity or a gimmick, are now commonplace.
In the fall of 2022, Cigar Aficionado rolled into its third decade of circulation. We are a bit longer in the tooth (or ash) than we were back in those heady days but the flame is still burning bright. For our pearl anniversary, we have looked back through every September/October issue (or Autumn issue, back when we were a quarterly publication) to see just how the prices of non-Cuban cigars have changed.
In the first issue of Cigar Aficionado, we rated 23 cigars, 17 of them made outside of Cuba. (The days of tasting 70 to 80 cigars per issue that readers would grow accustomed to were a few years away.) The cigars had an average cost of only $2.93, and eight had suggested retail prices of $2 or less. The most expensive cigar of the issue was the Davidoff Special “R” at $7.50, which was almost four times the cost for a pound of bacon and clearly an outlier in this group. The mantle of least expensive cigar was a three-way tie between the H. Upmann Pequeños, La Gloria Cubana Wavell and Punch Rothschild, all retailing for a mere $1.50. In 1992, such an innocuous-sounding sum could either get you one of these cigars or a 20-ounce package of Oreos. Today, the Wavell and Rothschild are both still made and remain bargain-friendly smokes.
Not long after that first issue, what became known as the cigar boom of the 1990s began. Cigar imports into the United States began climbing and the average price of cigars also began to hike up with demand. In both the Autumn issues of 1993 and 1995, the most expensive cigar was the Davidoff Aniversario No. 2, a Churchill-sized smoke. Its retail price jumped from $13 (roughly a dollar more than the average price of a compact disc) to $14.10. It wasn’t all more expensive cigars though—bargains could certainly be found such as the cheapest option in any of the reviewed issues: the 1994 Autumn issue featured the Bances Unique, a corona-sized cigar retailing for a mere 70 cents—13 cents cheaper than the cost of a fast-food burger.
In both the October 1997 and 1998 issues of the magazine, the average price was $6.80 and $7.09, respectively, and the most expensive cigar in each was also made by Davidoff, the Aniversario No. 1, an “A” size. In just a year, the massive cigar’s already hefty price tag of $23 jumped to $24.50. In Autumn 1997, the least expensive cigar was the Las Cabrillas Columbus for $2.80, almost double the price of most of the cheapest cigars in the preceding issues. For comparison, the average national gas price was about $1.26 in September 1997.
In the years surrounding the start of the millennium, the average price of a cigar remained fairly level, staying roughly around $7.12, until 2002 when it climbed to $8.31. The priciest cigar (again, a Davidoff) was $29, the least expensive a Padrón Ambassador Maduro, which cost a mere $3.10—38 cents higher than the price of a gallon of milk.
In December 2007, the Great Recession started, the longest economic downturn since the second World War. George W. Bush was president, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series two months prior and I Am Legend starring Will Smith dominated the box office. From analyzing the September/October issues of Cigar Aficionado from 2006 to 2010, (the years that bookend the Great Recession) the average price in the September/October editions does show a significant increase in premium cigar pricing. In 2006, the average cigar price had been lower than it was in a decade at $6.43. The year before, the average price in the September/October edition had been $8.13, a difference of $1.70, a fairly significant drop. In the 2007 issue, the average price returned almost to the cent to the previous level at $8.16 and surprisingly held fairly close despite the Great Recession being in full swing the following year.
Less than six months after the Great Recession had ended, the average price increased by a margin of just over a dollar in the 2009 edition to $9.26. For comparison, the average U.S. minimum wage in the latter half of that year was raised to $7.25 per hour.
The year 2020 was of course the start of the pandemic, but also was the start of a new cigar boom unrivaled since the 1990s. People were forced to work from home, opportunities for face-to-face socialization decreased dramatically and more free time opened up without the prospect of daily commutes. In the cigar world, factories were shut down for extended periods, causing production to slow while demand increased as many seemed to use their newfound free time to smoke more. The year 2021 was a benchmark with record import numbers: 456 million units shipped to the U.S., the first time since 1997 that shipments exceeded 400 million. In May of this year, cigar imports reached 176.9 million units. While bargain-friendly smokes could still be found in the October 2022 issue, like the Nat Cicco Casino Real Churchill for $6.19 at retail, the average price of $12.04 does seem to indicate an uptick as the average price increased between $1.27 to $2.28 over the previous two years.
In our first issue, published 30 years ago, the average price of a non-Cuban in our ratings was only $2.93. In 2022, that had climbed up to $12.04. Cigars are no longer truly cheap, but they do remain one of life’s affordable luxuries. And with 2023 on the horizon, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the cigar industry. For the cigar aficionado in all of us, exciting times lie ahead.