Yesterday the BBC announced that New York had banned smoking in public. Talk about wonderful news; it was impossible not to feel jealous and I am hoping for the same legislation in the United Kingdom as soon as possible.
Mr. Shanken, you know more than anyone that fine cigars demand contemplation, good company and ambience. This legislation will encourage like-minded people to search out venues where this combination can be found. It will encourage the proliferation of the modern equivalent of gentlemen's clubs -- and fine cigar appreciation will thrive as more enthusiasts are brought together. This is a really exciting time, and we need something similar in the U.K.
Fine cigars came to me late in life. I am 39 and until three years ago had never smoked. That was until a trip to Buenos Aires when I stumbled upon for the first time a world-class cigar retailer. We don't have walk-in humidors on the high street in the U.K. I have been a passionate enthusiast ever since, reading whatever I could and building up my own stock from trips abroad. It is funny that the more people I discuss my passion with, the more excited and intrigued people I find! One of the reasons for the intrigue is obscurity value. In the U.K., fine cigars suffer an almost zero profile.
Enthusiasm and tobacconists in the U.K. appear to be mutually exclusive. The retailers I've met see commodity and not luxury. Nobody sells you a cigar over here, you have to go and find one. I would like to help change the situation. We need to improve awareness of fine cigars in the U.K., access to fine cigars and sales methods. I have established the tax implications of importing -- now it is just a question of whom to buy from?
Please excuse my request if you feel it is a little cheeky; all that I can say is that any help you offer would be more than appreciated -- it might even start a revolution. Who knows, in 18 months' time I might be writing to tell you about the Chester Fine Cigar Club.
Editor's note: Funny, we always thought the best cigar retailers in the world were in London, and the best cigar-smoking venues were available there. You should seek out Edward Sahakian in St. James's and Desmond Sautter in Mayfair. There are no finer cigar enthusiasts anywhere in the world.
And be careful what you wish for. A New York-style smoking law in London would prohibit smoking almost EVERYWHERE, including private men's clubs. It would be better if you started fighting all antismoking regulations to preserve the freedom you have.
Regarding your May/June 2003 issue of Cigar Aficionado with the "Super Models of Cuba" and the article with Fox Sports Net's Lisa Guerrero: way to go!
Now that's what I call an issue! I'll smoke a cigar with Lisa anytime. Thanks for a great month!
Charles D. Sheldon
A Charlotte, North Carolina lawyer purchased a box of rare expensive cigars, then insured them against fire. He smoked them all in one month, then filed a claim saying the cigars were lost in a small fire.
The insurance company refused to pay so the lawyer sued and won, because the policy didn't define "unacceptable fires." They paid $15,000. Rather than appeal, the insurance company paid. After the lawyer cashed his settlement check, the insurance company had the lawyer arrested on 24 counts of arson!! With his own claim and testimony from the previous case, he was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000 fine.
Nancy J. Hume
Peachtree City, Georgia
Editor's note: It's a funny story…only it's not true. We heard it the first time in 1993. It falls under the heading Urban Legend. But you can't help but laugh at it.
On a recent trip to Central America, the most important thing that I wanted to do was visit a cigar factory. I have had a love affair with cigars since I began smoking at age 16 and now, over 30 years later, the passion still remains. Imagine if you showed up at the office of a company in the United States that employed over 4,000 people, had multimillions in worldwide sales, and a reputation second to none, and asked to take a tour of its facility. After the laughter subsided, you'd probably have to step lively so the door didn't hit you from behind. Not so at Plasencia Tobacco in DanlÌ, Honduras.
No sooner had my request in flawed Spanish been put to the receptionist then the man himself, Nestor Plasencia, appeared. I knew his likeness from the photographs in Cigar Aficionado. Never one to be shy when heroes are at hand, I introduced myself, shook his hand, and told him what a great honor it was to meet him. If he had been wearing a ring, I would have probably kneeled down and kissed it. Cigar in hand, he asked me what he could do for me.
When I told him, he gave me a quizzical-humorous look, then asked me to follow him. We arrived in his office, and while talking to his secretary he opened the top drawer of his desk and took out a maduro box-pressed corona and gave it to me.
"Try one of mine," he said.
My head by this time was spinning from having just met Mr. Plasencia, being in his office, and smoking one of his cigars. As I puffed contentedly away, it suddenly came to me that heaven must be like this.
Mr. Plasencia brought a man into his office and introduced him to me as Petrus Hartkamp, plant manager. He then apologized, telling me that he had a busy day ahead, he couldn't spend any more time with me, but Petrus would show me the facility. Yes, it's true -- the president of the company apologizing to some wayward tourist who had the impudence to invade his turf without even so much as an appointment.
As we shook hands, I asked him if I could get a photo of us together, and asked Petrus if he would take it, fumbling for my camera. You may be thinking, "Has this dolt no shame?" I can only reply in my defense that when it comes to cigars, I'm just as big a fanatic as the ones you see on Sunday afternoons screaming for their favorite football team to win. They would fall all over themselves to get a picture with their favorite player. I am no different, except my heroes make cigars. With smiles all around, cigars in hand, pictures were taken and then the tour began.
I spent the next two days with members of the Plasencia team, in Danlí and then in El Paraiso. My already high opinion of cigarmakers has been kicked up several notches due to my experiences at Plasencia. For me it was a superb moment, one of those unplanned events that will stay with me forever.
Over the years that I have enjoyed Cigar Aficionado magazine, I have noticed your editorial policy generally is tilted toward normalizing relations with Cuba. The recent brutal crackdown on dissent has landed many freedom-searching Cubans in prison. Some have been executed. These brutal acts of violence cannot be glossed over by your publication. By promoting the purchase of state-owned Cuban cigars, you are aiding and abetting those who foster the systematic repression of human rights. Have courage and recommend that your readers boycott all Cuban products until this siege ends. The Iraqi people are better off without the dictator Saddam Hussein, and the Cuban people will be better off without the dictator Fidel Castro.
Livingston, New Jersey
Editor's note: You miss our point. No one here excuses human rights abuses and the lack of freedom anywhere in the world. The debate is over how best to achieve the admirable goals of democracy and freedom for all peoples. For 40 years, our policy toward Cuba and Castro has been to isolate and boycott. Isn't it worth trying something else? The power of free trade and the power of Americans visiting in large numbers could only alter Cuba's internal politics.
Well, finally Cigar Aficionado has succumbed to "Sports Illustratedism" with its latest issue featuring the supermodels of Cuba. Fine wine, spirits and cigars always struck me as conducive to the good life, a life above beer cans and cigarettes, which I somehow find more appropriate for the "swimsuit issue" crowd. Your magazine arrived during the day when my wife and young sons were at home, and, as usual, my boys picked up the mail. Needless to say, they were shocked by the cover of a magazine addressed to their father. My wife and I have strong feelings about the exploitation of women and are trying to raise our family to value women as persons, not sexual objects. The feature article of your latest issue flies in the face of those values and therefore I am cancelling my subscription to your magazine.
Editor's note: Sports Illustrated prints letters every year after its swimsuit issue. Many contain cancellation of subscriptions from irate readers. Many have kudos from appreciative subscribers. We printed yours because your comparison of us to Sports Illustrated is high praise indeed.