Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From Laurence Fishburne, Jan/Feb 00

Editor's Note: We knew our list of the twentieth century's top 100 cigar smokers would elicit its share of controversy. But we didn't think we'd be called into question about everything from our intelligence to our friends. We admitted it at the outset: ours was a subjective list. We love it that way. We chose people who are identified with cigars, not who should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. We also knew that after about the first 25 honorees, the next 75 or so could have been a dramatically different list. But don't ascribe evil intentions to us, please; we're just trying to have fun and get you all talking about the world of cigars. It's clear we accomplished that goal.

Some readers also questioned our placing the World Wrestling Federation's Vince McMahon (and his massive employees) on our cover. Yes, the choice was a departure for us. A fun one, and one that is about as topical as we can get. Trust us, the divisions in the office over the choice were about as intense as the reactions from our readers. But love or hate it, the WWF is a real phenomenon in the United States. (And not just in the arenas--the WWF's initial public offering in October brought in more than $1 billion in stock value for McMahon.) If you love the WWF, you'll love the story. If you hate it, read the story and you may, like some of us, understand the phenomenon a little better.

It's great to see so much attention being directed at our editorial choices. "Out of the Humidor" is revitalized by all your e-mails and letters. That tells us one thing: we're taking some chances that are stirring up your thoughts and opinions. But don't for a minute think we are abandoning our original charter. We are committed more than ever to telling you about the world around us, and what is best or most interesting about it.

As we say in this month's editorial, being a cigar smoker is about having a certain attitude about life. One of our loyal readers told us recently that he loved the expanded editorial coverage because as a longtime cigar smoker, it's the same transition that's happening to him. The magazine has served as a guide for the best and most interesting subjects the world has to offer. With your help, we'll continue to do so. You can now e-mail us directly atletters@cigaraficionado.com, so keep those letters coming.

Dear Marvin,  

Were you really serious or just blowing smoke with your December 2001 Cigar Aficionado "gag" issue that "with honor and great pleasure" you recognized Al Capone and Fidel Castro on your list of "great" people because they shared a common trait, a love of cigars? May these creatures of the devil be relegated to the ashtray of history! In case you forgot, in 1962 Castro pleaded with the Russians to launch nuclear missiles from Cuba. I wonder, if you were a member of the ASPCA, would you have honored Adolf Hitler because he was kind to his dogs? 

If you were serious in listing these two miscreants in the company of Churchill, Horowitz and Kennedy, you and your editors should get brain scans to check for lasioderma serricorne [tobacco beetles].  

John Scott Washington, D.C.

Dear Marvin,  

I rarely find myself at odds with your magazine. However, I must take issue with your placement of President Clinton in the Top 100, much less at number 13. My reasons are not due to my feelings about him politically, as I can find others on your list that I may have philosophical differences with, but nonetheless respect as a cigar smoker.

My reasons that he should not be on the list are:  

1. He cannot even admit he smokes them. How can I respect him as a cigar smoker when he has to do it in secret?  

2. There has never been such a unified attack on the rights of smokers as there has been under his term in office.  

3. No one person has done more to damage the tobacco industry than President Clinton has. We know that it is not just cigarettes that they are after. The Justice Department, the FDA, and other federal offices all follow the lead of who is in the White House.  

Please adjust your list to find someone more deserving to be included in such an elite group.  

Douglas R. Hurst Cigar Aficionado Online

Dear Marvin,  

Please explain to me your theory that Whoopi Goldberg is the 19th "greatest cigar lover this century." I have seen many things that I disagree with, but this tops them all. Zino Davidoff at number 22 and Whoopi Goldberg at 19; just think about how stupid that sounds. If Zino was alive today, would you have printed that, and given the Davidoff Double "R" an 80 in the same issue? This magazine has no class.  

Michael R. McKinney Winter Park, Florida

Dear Marvin,  

As a physician with a passion for fine cigars and vintage Port, I enjoy my subscription to your magazine. However, I found the article on famous cigar smokers of this century simultaneously amusing, informative and annoying. Your glaring omission of Sigmund Freud's primary cancer of the mouth struck me like the proverbial ton of bricks! All the vignettes took pains to include cigar-related details of people's lives; surely Freud's illness qualifies in spades. This omission reveals a consistent bias in your publication. Please do not minimize the health risks of cigar smoking on the basis of insufficient data in occasional smokers. This approach is hauntingly similar to that taken by the cigarette industry until recently. Instead, restrict your arguments to those dealing with personal freedom, which are far, far more valid.  

Morris Browman, MD Cigar Aficionado Online  

Editor's Note: We continually remind our readers that cigar smoking is not risk-free, but a pleasure freely chosen as is our right as American adults. Our listing was a fun diversion, not a pathology report. It should also be noted that Freud lived to the age of 83, dying in London in 1939. At the time of his death, the average life span of American men was 60 years.

Dear Marvin,  

I enjoyed the article about the "Greatest Cigar Smokers of the Century" and it reminded me of a great cigar smoker of two centuries. He is my great, great, great, great uncle, Sir William Van Horne.  

He was a man of many accomplishments, credited with building the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Banff Springs Hotel as well as many other successful businesses in Canada. But it was while building the Cuba Co. Railroad in 1900 when his lifelong love of fine cigars took hold. (The Cubans praised him for his honesty; he refused to use kickbacks and payoffs to build in Cuba.)  

After twice rejecting knighthood, Van Horne reluctantly accepted the honor in 1894. Sir William was a gourmand, and at a dinner shortly after being knighted Van Horne announced that his coat of arms would be "a dinner horn pendant upon a kitchen door." One of his life philosophies was, "I eat all I can; I drink all I can; I smoke all I can; and I don't give a damn about anything!" His legendary poker games were supplemented by snacks of caviar, whiskey and pungent cigars.  

Shortly before his death in 1915, Sir William was hospitalized for a stomach ailment. While he was recovering, his doctors pleaded with him to limit himself to three cigars a day. He agreed. The next day a package arrived for Sir William. Inside it was a special selection of perfecto cigars--each one two feet long. Complying with his doctor's orders, he smoked no more than three cigars a day; however, each cigar was a four-hour smoke. I like to think that my love of a good smoke comes from my uncle of the past, and to him I light up and enjoy.  

Tobin Benham Galveston, Texas

Dear Marvin,

I have been a cigar aficionado for several years and I love your magazine, but I had to respond to your choices in the top 100 cigar smokers.  

I could not believe you chose Bill Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani. Both these men are the antithesis of what cigar smoking is all about: freedom. They represent government encroachment on personal freedom and liberties in all its ugliness. Bill Clinton has spearheaded the antitobacco witch-hunt that your magazine continuously deplores, and he pushes government intrusion on all issues, including our constitutional right to bear arms. You even admit that you don't know if he smokes! Likewise, Rudolph Giuliani tramples the rights of his own people, which he has proven by his willingness to confiscate and sell private cars without the due course of a trial.  

Just because these men are successful politicians does not mean they deserve to be recognized as great cigar lovers. A true cigar lover embodies the freedom and pleasure that cigar smoking brings.  

Greg Jeffreys Cigar Aficionado Online

Dear Marvin,  

I have been a satisfied subscriber to your fine periodical for over three years. I am now compelled to write regarding my extreme displeasure with your choice for the cover story of the December 2001 Cigar Aficionado.  

A feature story on "professional" wrestling is something I would expect from [lesser] magazines, but certainly not from you! Surely you can find a subject matter more deserving of your periodical than the societal abomination that is the WWF (or WCW, or whatever).  

The cover of your magazine has been graced previously with such noteworthy cigar smokers as Winston Churchill, JFK, Groucho Marx and any number of other historical and celebrity figures who represent the best of our culture. Stooping to provide Vince McMahon with the same exposure is a disservice to your readership.  

I was mildly disappointed with the soap opera diva featured on the cover of the last issue; I find this issue's cover disturbing, to say the least. Please don't dumb down your outstanding magazine in an effort to pander to the lowest common denominator of our society.  

David K. Tarr Baltimore, Maryland

Dear Marvin,  

My business travels frequently take me to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. On my previous trip there, I had a free afternoon and decided to hire a taxi to take me to tour the cigar factories in Santiago.  

After taking the two-plus-hour ride to Santiago, we went to three factories (MATASA, General Cigar and Fuente); however, we were denied entry into all three. I explained to the young ladies at the reception desk that I had traveled over two hours and that I was returning to the United States the following day, but nevertheless they would not budge, citing company policy. I found it interesting that an individual could tour the White House, the Pentagon and the FBI, yet touring a cigar factory was like attempting to get into Fort Knox. Come to think of it, we can tour Fort Knox as well.  

The taxicab driver suggested that we go to the nearby León Jimenes factory, and I must say that they were the exact opposite of the other three factories. They were cordial, friendly and accommodating. Not only were they happy to give us a tour, they provided us with free refreshments and cigars!  

I have been a regular cigar smoker for 19 years and I would venture to guess that some 10 years ago, before the cigar boom, the other three factories would have rolled out the red carpet for me. Since this experience, I have vowed that when purchasing cigars from the Dominican Republic, I will only purchase those that come from the León Jimenes factory.   You can grow the finest tobacco, have the most sophisticated curing barns, possess the latest technology, and age the tobacco for many years, but the number one ingredient is still customer service.  

Jerry Najman Massena, New York  

Editor's Note: It was fortunate that the Jimenes staff was able to accommodate you. Your letter didn't supply the details, but I see no indication that you wrote or phoned ahead before showing up on the other manufacturers' doorsteps. They are, after all, running businesses, not tourist centers. Perhaps if you had given them more advanced notice, you may have gotten a different reception.

Dear Marvin,  

I've been reading your magazine for almost five years and I think it is time to give some feedback about what a French reader thinks of a magazine dedicated to cigars.  

To be honest, I have found it very interesting, and more than that I'm still amazed about the passion of Americans for cigars. 

For a long time, we French thought that everything linked to good taste and enjoying exquisite wines and distinguished food was only part of a European education. But I can testify that your magazine and also the number of people I have met while traveling in the United States are really passionate about good taste and savoir vivre, whether it is wine or cigars.  

Your magazine brings me in every issue the enjoyment to find out about new cigars that we don't know about in Europe. Americans are very open to novelties, and reading your magazine, we can easily feel that a passion for cigars is not only reserved for a strictly closed society but for all classes.  

It's something we should learn from your country.  

Andre M. Collome Cigar Aficionado Online