It's been a while since we talked about the state of the cigar industry. We didn't want to jinx what appeared to be the first signs of real growth since 1997. But the trend has been happening now for more than a year and a half, and the good news has reached the point where it can't be ignored any longer. That good news, and the optimism surrounding it, was out in full force in late July at the single most important remaining trade show for the world of cigars, the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America, in Las Vegas. Everyone from retailers to the manufacturers of cigars and accessories was talking about significant increases in his business. The proof was right on the show floor at The Venetian's beautiful and large convention center.
First, the convention had the most registrants since the peak of the cigar boom in 1997, and attendance was up nearly 50 percent over last year. Second, there were nearly as many exhibitor booths as during those same heady days of almost overwhelming growth and buzz about cigars. The cigarmakers' commitment of resources to creative and luxurious booths, with scenes that echoed their Latin origins or tapped into the hip, modern attraction of cigars, was in evidence. Third, and most important, the manufacturers, from giant conglomerates General Cigar and Altadis U.S.A. to the boutique producers such as Padrón and La Flor Dominicana, released new and exciting products at the show. And everywhere you turned you saw the latest, cutting-edge humidor designs, cutters, lighters and cases.
Of course, we must be realistic about this growth spurt and recognize one bit of puzzling news: no one knows why it is happening. There are some theories. One consistent observation about the surge focuses on the arrival of new smokers, mostly young men in their mid- to late 20s, at the retail level. Why now? We've speculated that many of these new smokers are just entering the workaday world and are using their freedom and economic power to explore something they have heard about as being an enjoyable way to pass the time.
Another explanation is that many people who came to America's cigar party in the mid-1990s were turned off by the poor quality and high prices. But as word has trickled out that the cigars on the market today are better than ever, people are coming back to find out if cigars are as good as everyone says they are. They are. These returning consumers are discovering that the quality is better than it has ever been. On top of that, the average price of cigars, especially new brands, has come down significantly. And a number of moderately priced, high-quality brands have been introduced. We heard it over and over from cigarmakers, whether they are based in the Dominican Republic, Honduras or Nicaragua—cigars today are better than ever. Each manufacturer speaks with great admiration of how its competitors keep raising the bar.
But in truth, no single reason can explain what is happening with cigars. We like to think that maybe the truth revolves around the recognition that smoking a cigar remains one of life's great, and simple, pleasures. There is no better way to step back from our hectic daily lives to enjoy a quiet moment, either alone in contemplation or in an atmo-sphere of pure camaraderie with friends or like-minded cigar lovers, or to savor a memorable moment on the golf course after a great shot or score. Whatever the reason, cigar lovers should be ecstatic about all the new things that are happening with one of their favorite pastimes.