It's been five years since we began our journey into the world of Cigar Aficionado. Five years filled with highlights: our first issue, the launch dinner at the St. Regis Rooftop, in New York, the first Big Smoke, the first Night to Remember, in New York, the first Dinner of the Century, in Paris, our first celebrity cover with Rush Limbaugh, the recent shift to a bimonthly publication schedule, and the creation of the Cigar Aficionado Hall of Fame.
With this issue, we reach another milestone; at 580 pages, it is by far our largest issue ever.
Those events are small in comparison to the truly dramatic changes that have occurred in the cigar industry—and in America. Did you ever think you'd see the day when people would publicly defend the rights of cigar smokers? Did you ever think cigar smokers would have an elegant, plush setting where great food is served and the bar is stocked with ultrapremium liquors? Did you ever think you'd see Demi Moore, Linda Evangelista or Claudia Schiffer, three of the world's most beautiful women, smoking cigars?
The cigar industry is flourishing. In the past year, four "majors" in the cigar business have gone public: Consolidated Cigar Co., General Cigar Holdings, J.R. Tobacco and Swisher. Virtually every cigar company with some standing in the industry has experienced tremendous growth. The best barometer of those sales, the market for imported premium hand-rolled cigars, has gone through the roof.
From a static level of about 100 million cigars imported annually into the United States between 1980 and 1992, the market soared to 297 million in 1996 and is on track to exceed an astounding 575 million in 1997. The explosion in retail outlets is also staggering. In 1992, there were approximately 1,200 tobacco retailers in the United States; today, the total stands at about 4,000. Cigar dinners could be counted on two hands in 1992; today, the number approaches 2,500 annually. When we performed our first humidor test, we tested eight brands; at the last Retail Tobacco Dealers of America show, there were 180 humidor brands.
We're constantly asked, "How long can the boom last?" Well, the truth is that it will not last forever. But we are never going to go back to the environment and market size the cigar industry faced in 1992.
Of course, the growth rate of the past two years cannot, and probably should not, be sustained. We need a period of consolidation to stabilize the market, and allow the better manufacturers' production to catch up with demand. One manufacturer has more than $100 million worth of back orders. Prices need to stabilize, too; the huge flood last year of new brands with price tags of $7 and up was too much. The overall result is that the industry has boomed at a time when many pundits were ready to write it off as a historical curiosity.
There are also some things we are proud of. Cigar Aficionado has raised more than $1 million for CaPCure, the prostate cancer research foundation. The monies come from our Big Smokes and our special dinners and auctions.
We also are proud of the team here at the magazine. People constantly tell us that we produce one of the finest magazines in America today--not simply a cigar magazine, but a magazine with a depth and quality that appeals to a wide audience. Receiving Temple University's "Acres of Diamonds" award as the most outstanding consumer magazine launched in the past five years certainly supports that contention. We are equally proud that Cigar Aficionado now has an estimated readership of 1.5 million worldwide.
Most importantly, and we've said this before, none of this would be possible without you, the readers of Cigar Aficionado and our fellow cigar lovers. You have helped create one of the most extraordinary, unexpected and welcome shifts in American culture in recent memory.