In August 1992, we stood before the crowd of retail tobacconists in Chicago at the annual Retail Tobacco Dealers of America trade show. It was breakfast, and sitting in boxes around the room was the first issue of Cigar Aficionado, with the cover date of Fall 1992. There were lots of smiles and plenty of congratulations offered for the glossy magazine that was devoted to the lifestyle of men who smoke cigars, and the people who make them. Years later, many present that day would say they thought they would never see another issue.
Here we are, 15 years later, and still going strong. It's been a dream come true. We had always wanted to create a cigar magazine, and after Marvin's fateful first trip to Cuba in October 1991, he decided to take the plunge. Nine months later, we had a finished magazine. Now, after more than 80 issues, we've surpassed everyone's expectations, including our own, and defied every prediction that we wouldn't be around the next year.
The good times, and the good things that have happened, are simply too numerous to list here. There was our first celebrity cover—Rush Limbaugh—which not only spread our message to a huge crowd of his fans, but also started a long friendship. We've met and known scores of Hollywood celebrities, politicians and business leaders, all because they share a love of cigars.
There was the first Big Smoke, in 1993, where we realized that the tip of the iceberg was hiding a huge universe of cigar lovers; hours before the event, hundreds of people lined up waiting to get in. Since then, more than 200,000 have attended those events, even as we've had to find new venues that allow smoking. The annual Big Smoke weekend in Las Vegas is simply the biggest consumer event in the cigar world every year.
We've also become great friends with many people in the cigar business. Again, the list is so long, we can't even begin to run down the people we call our friends and partners. The cigar industry has responded to the world's new interest in cigars with some of the best new products that have ever been in U.S. stores. After decades of being in the doldrums, the cigar business is vibrant, both for cigarmakers and cigar sellers.
There were some downtimes. The cigar boom's end in 1998 led to the general perception that it had been nothing more than a fad, and that the declines of the 1970s and 1980s would return. While it took some time to work off the cigar surplus, it did happen, and, for three years in a row now, the cigar business has shown healthy growth rates.
Smoking bans, new taxes and other kinds of restrictions have all complicated life for people working in the cigar business. But it hasn't stopped the public from continuing to enjoy a product that it loves.
Cigars create a world of camaraderie with friends, and even strangers. It's a world that offers a unique kind of relaxation, and for all the people who understand the pleasures of a hand-rolled cigar, they get to share a little bit of the good life every time they light up.
Here's to another 15 years.