Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From George Burns, Winter 94/95

Dear Marvin,

One observation I have while reading letters from your subscribers is the political nature of the cigar. Why is it so many of your readers bring politics into their opinions of your magazine? For example, look at the reaction to your issue featuring Rush Limbaugh on the cover. I can't believe readers would actually discontinue reading your magazine simply because of Rush. If these people are truly cigar lovers, surely they can understand the huge influence Rush has had on the cigar-smoking industry as well as subscriptions to your magazine.

And what of Fidel Castro? Holy cow! You shook some people up. As one of your readers said, "When I want politics, I'll buy another magazine." Who is talking about politics? I thought we were talking about cigars here? Who can deny the relationship between Cuba, Castro and cigars? And what of James Belushi saying women should stay away from cigar smoking? Some of these readers would prefer that you put a disclaimer on each issue: "Opinions or ideas expressed by Limbaugh and Castro do not necessarily reflect the views of Cigar Aficionado." Maybe if you feature cigar-smoking Bill Clinton on the cover, you will get some of those readers back.

If anything, a case could be made that cigar smoking pulls together people of different ideologies. What does Rush the Conservative, Clinton the Liberal and Castro the Dictator all have in common? Of course, they all love cigars. In fact, I think this is common ground to start a meaningful dialog. Let's get Rush, Castro and Clinton together in a neutral site--say a raft adrift off the coast of Florida. Buy a few good Dominican or Honduran cigars. Invite Cosby and Letterman to help break the ice and see what develops. Maybe they could end the Cuban embargo.

Come on people, lighten up. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Kevin Grinstead
St. Louis, Missouri

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Dear Marvin,

As an aficionado of cigars and pipes for nearly a quarter century (and I'm only 41 years old), I am of course dismayed with the onslaught of new legislation, restrictions and personal affronts to smokers. I differ with you and some of your readers, however, in my attitudes and responses.

Although openly hostile and publicly opinionated about many subjects, I am not that way about my smoking. I remember when--just a few years ago--my pipe and cigar were part of my public identity. Like my beard or glasses, people pointed me out as "the guy with the pipe." My entire office building is now totally "smoke-free" as are many of the restaurants and all the stores.

I refuse to make myself miserable about this unfortunate tide and I refuse to surrender any of my dignity to the whining masses. Openly fighting with "do-gooders" won't help our cause. In the same way that I deal with pests, annoyances and other inconveniences in life, I have established my own set of rules by which to live and smoke. Smoking is then easy as one, two, three. Call them, if you wish, my "smoker's standards," "puffer's principles" or "three tenets for tobacco users." They are as follows:

--I don't smoke around nonsmokers.

Our society has grown to accept public rudeness aimed at smokers. Even polite requests to extinguish are barbed. Could there ever be justification? I recall enjoying a meal at a nice restaurant. The pipe smoker at the next table finished his meal and lit a bowl of latakia tobacco, which gets its pungent aroma from curing over smoldering camel dung. The stench was more offensive than the strongest body odor I could imagine. It ruined my dinner, and I told him so. Why would I ever want to do that to someone else? "Smoking sections" in restaurants usually don't keep smoke from the nonsmoking sections. Bottom line: when indoors, at work, home or vehicle, I don't subject others to my smoke and I don't subject myself to their rudeness or whining.

--I don't debate on smoking relative to health, the media or society in general.

Like debating religion or politics, there can be no winners. Bottom line: I show support or opposition with my wallet or with my vote.

--I don't patronize businesses with double standards for smokers (prohibiting pipes or cigars while permitting cigarettes).

I don't have a problem with a "no-smoking" policy applicable to all. As a pipe/cigar smoker, however, I am particularly offended by this hypocrisy, especially when the establishment serves up food that has been described by the Surgeon General as "a heart attack on a platter."

Some of your readers may shun my principles as "rolling over and playing dead." So be it. I nevertheless enjoy my pipe on my drive to work, at lunch and on my drive home, and my cigar each evening at home. I am not harassed or tormented by my many nonsmoking friends and co-workers. As I have not infringed on their lifestyles, they do not infringe on mine.

In spite of all of the nonsmoking sentiment in our society, let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees. After all, Prohibition didn't work before and it won't work this time. We'll just have to yield a little.

Quietly and with dignity, I enjoy smoking and reading your magazine.

Alan Ira Fleischmann
Hurricane, West Virginia

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Dear Marvin,

Your article about journalists who smoke cigars made me recall that in covering a war there are few pleasures greater than surviving long enough to enjoy a double corona at the end of a day of bang-bang. Now, while it's true that I am technically no longer a journalist, at least not full-time, I thought I would share with you a memorable story from the unpleasantness in Nicaragua.

Sometime toward the latter part of 1978 or early 1979, as the Sandinista revolutionaries battled Somoza's National Guard, the town of Esteli was occupied by the rebels, the National Guard bombed the town and destroyed a lot of it including the factory and warehouse of the Joya de Nicaragua cigar company. The ABC News team, undaunted by danger and with greater glory in mind, fought its way to the remains of the smoldering cigar complex and plucked from certain disintegration as many coronas as could be stuffed into the multipocketed photo vests and guayaberas that were the fashion of the journalists covering the war.

Years later, 1982 if memory serves, I was sitting in the Dallas bureau with our cigar-smoking correspondent, Charlie Murphy, when the phone rang. The man on the line was from an insurance company and was processing a client's claim. He asked if Murphy had covered the Sandinista revolution in 1978 and 1979. Yes, said Murphy. The man asked if he had been in Esteli. Yes again. The insurance man continued and finally asked if Murphy would describe the situation in Nicaragua at the time as one of "civil strife." "Oh yeah. You bet," concluded Murphy in his Oklahoman drawl. We both proceeded to guffaw.

It turns out that the claim was being filed by the owners of Joya de Nicaragua. I hope they settled for a large chunk of change, and I'm glad to see that they are once again making cigars worth insuring.

Alejandro Benes
Managing Director
The Center for Public Integrity
Washington, D.C.

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Dear Marvin,

I enjoyed the trilogy of articles on the antismoking hysteria in the Autumn 1994 issue of Cigar Aficionado. Reflecting on the articles, I saw many similarities to another issue that I have been involved in: gun control. The amount of hysteria and inconsistency is similar. States pass gun bans, but let criminals go free. They crusade against guns as if guns themselves are begging people to use them to commit crimes. There is a lack of sound statistical and scientific evidence that any form of gun control would reduce crime.

As a cigar and gun aficionado, I lament the crusaders who attack us just as they did with Prohibition. (Don't people ever learn?) Banning something that you don't appreciate or enjoy does not make sense, but is a common theme in our society these days. From the "moral right" wanting to ban books and movies, curfews for teens (again taking a right from the many because of the few), banning logging, to current attacks on the tobacco industry, taking away basic individual rights is seen as a viable way to get what a special interest group wants. Whatever happened to "to each his own" and compromise?

I want to echo your call to be heard. Write your politicians. Don't wait. As Russell Baker said in his column, "It would be proper for conservatives to get concerned about the anti-smoking crusade. What it attacks...is...the right of those who are disapproved of by the high and mighty to be left alone." It is time for collective action. I am referring to those of you who are unsure or unwilling to be politically involved. If you awake to political action now because your smoking rights are being challenged, that is good, but there are many other issues that need your attention.

A quote by Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984) says it all: "In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by then no one was left to speak up."

You could easily substitute various current issues into the appropriate places above to make this a modern-day story. I feel that all interested parties must stand up to the prohibitionists. If you have been neutral on some issues, I think you can see how allowing them to gain momentum on one issue snowballs into more restrictions on your freedoms. Collective action by conservatives can stop this hysteria.

Lawrence A. O'Brien
Del Rio, Texas

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Dear Marvin,

While cigars are gaining notoriety as trendy accessories to both the well-heeled and the individualistic, they are also, unfortunately, being used symbolically by those who do not necessarily appreciate their finer uses.

The best use for a cigar is to transport the smoker to a state of relaxation. Some, however, think they are best used to accentuate a marketing message based on the cachet associated with finer cigars.

I am the managing editor of a chain of weekly newspapers in western New York and as part of my job I recently took a trip to a suburb of Philadelphia to view a potential new pagination system from a vendor. The logo of the firm--Managing Editor Software--is of a man, apparently a managing editor, dressed in suspenders andbow tie, smoking a cigar. Ironically, as I type this I am clad in suspenders and bow tie, and I have clenched in my teeth an unlit Arturo Fuente (smoke-free news-room, an abomination).

At the software provider's offices, the cigar-smoking logo is set on the wall about five feet high. To break the ice with the potential software supplier, I quipped that I was glad to see a cigar in the picture and suggested that I might want to light up.

Not possible, I was informed, as the firm's office building was smoke-free. I was miffed that they would choose to ride on the coattails of the growing popularity of cigar smoking while not allowing it in their firm's offices.

And while my newspaper may operate out of smoke-free offices, at least we don't festoon our walls with images of smokers. A firm's logo should represent its mission, and in this case Managing Editor Software missed the mark.

Ray Ammerman
Buffalo, New York

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Dear Marvin,

It is good to know that there is now a printed outlet for smokers, who are fast becoming social outcasts, suffering indignities and insults from self-righteous health fascists and other holier-than-thou types.

But let us not give in to these prohibitionistic patronizers and their killjoy mentalities. Let us not be misled into thinking that this is a health issue; it is not. It is about morality legislation, priggishness and puritanism. Tobacco is not the first substance or activity threatened by these prune-faced, purse-lipped destroyers of enjoyment and it will not be the last.

To those of us who are devotees of that other noble weed, persecution and unsubstantiated propaganda posing as scientific fact are not new--nor are they surprising. Three packs of Camels a day or an Arturo Fuente Hemingway a week: it makes no difference to these antismoking zealots. It's drug abuse that must be stopped, freedom and the Constitution be damned. To those of you who are experiencing these witch hunts for the first time, wake up and smell the stink. The prohibitionists have succeeded with marijuana, now they are working on tobacco and alcoholic beverages. What will be next? Coffee, meat, eggs; who can tell? The only thing certain is that these people will not stop with tobacco.

Please don't laugh. Is there anyone who, 20 years ago, could have foreseen the outrageous exaggerations and prohibitive legislation now visited upon tobacco products? Instead, remember these words 20 years from now when you're sipping herbal tea while waiting for the next coffee or cigar contraband shipment to arrive at your neighborhood drug dealer's house.

Because this will be the inevitable result if smokers do not speak up now--and loudly. Write your congressional representatives or senators, the president and your city council. And if your local paper is as biased as mine is, write the publisher or editor and cancel your subscription. But write, speak out--scream if you have to. I know it sounds radical and alarmist, but it's late. If we don't let our dismay and disgust be known, soon we'll all be buying our cigars after midnight in shady houses on skid row.

Yes, tobacco, like pot alcohol, coffee and even chocolate, can be abused. But we must not give in to the notion that all use is abuse and harmful to our health.

Johan Ericsson
Los Gatos, California

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Dear Marvin,

After reading your publication for nearly two years, I feel as if I finally have a worthy cigar experience to share with you and my fellow readers.

I moved to Paris two years ago with my family and came back a few months ago after a year at college in the United States. After planning to study in Britain, I needed to find a job. I applied to a number of establishments. I thought a young American who could speak French would seem like a good investment to a restaurant or boutique. I was not prepared to be offered a job at the Ritz Hotel.

I accepted and soon found myself as a waiter in the Bar Vendôme, next to the Place Vendôme entrance. Working behind the scenes is a much different experience than living it. I saw so many businessmen and movers and shakers living it up in the Ritz. They all lived well and to the fullest. Our humidor rested next to the bar and was in constant demand.

Every day one of my co-workers would return from La Civette Tabac next to the Comedie Francaise with a cedar box of Cuban treasures. I remember tending bar with an employee one morning when we were confronted by a man on holiday, who strolled in asking: "You have a Cohiba for me, yes?" at 10:45 a.m.

We sold Cohiba, El Rey del Mundo, Rafael Gonzalez, Partagas, Montecristo, Dominican Davidoffs and tubed Romeo y Julieta Churchills. Prices were slightly higher than retail, but our clients didn't mind at all. I saw so many lunches end with men and women relaxing with an espresso and a Cuban. I emptied ashtrays with half-finished Cohibas and Montecristos too many times to count.

I saw many celebrities including Sylvester Stallone. He was a guest during the Versace fashion show in mid-July. He sat in our garden, surrounded by his entourage, puffing away on Cuban leaf. I saw so many people enjoying the good life. The warm scent of cured tobacco always wafted in the warm summer air at the Bar Vendôme, and I loved every minute of it.

I had to end my tenure at the Ritz, unfortunately. While I was there though, I had the time of my life being a working part of what some people can only dream of.

Todd Hagley
Paris, France

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Dear Marvin,

I'd like to respond to the letter by Jonathan Schnipper (Autumn 1994) about being asked to leave Elaine's after a run-in with a rude, nonsmoking Frenchman.

First, I am appalled that Schnipper encountered a "rude" Frenchman at our bar or anywhere else for that matter. And I must say, his choice of projectile (18-year-old McCallan, I believe) showed flair and class. Still, although Elaine's code of behavior is, well, elastic to say the least, tossing a Scotch in someone's face is one of the few reasons we have for ejection. Had Schnipper not thrown the Scotch, the Frenchman would have been advised that Schnipper had the right to smoke his cigar at the bar as he pleased.

Elaine's is, as Schnipper mentioned, a cigar-friendly restaurant. We not only tolerate but encourage our customers to enjoy themselves to the fullest extent of the law. At the risk of sounding clichéd, some of our best customers are cigar smokers: Ben Gazzara, Gay Talese and Sid Zion--to name a few. Still, to date, Schnipper is the only cigar-smoking customer who has chosen to "defend" his right to smoke by dousing his adversary in old Scotch.

On the bright side, I imagine it might have been worse. He could have tossed a match after the Scotch.

Brian McDonald
Elaine's Restaurant
New York, New York

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 27-year-old uneducated traveler. I have been smoking cigars since age 15. My greatest stogie moment was this past June on my birthday. I was hitchhiking from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. My last ride of the day brought me from Pocatello, to Black Foot in Idaho. While dropping me off, the driver gave me a couple of beers. After I set up camp next to the Snake River, I cracked open a beer and lit one of my Hoyo Excalibur III. The peace and solitude I felt were indescribable.

I have one more thing to say. I have been reading Cigar Aficionado since the "Groucho" issue and, until lately, my favorite part has been the letters. Now listening to people bitch about what is on or between the covers is sickening. Nothing personal, Marvin, but it's just a magazine, isn't it?

I liked the girl on the cover and found it appropriate. Also, I read the Limbaugh and Castro issues, even though I don't particularly care for either guy. I enjoyed each issue.

How can we expect to accomplish anything real in this world, such as world peace or even smokers' rights when we are quarreling amongst ourselves about petty political crap like who is on the cover? In a world where an extremely long-haired young man is considered a freak, I'll cling to anything.

Phil Stram
St. Cloud, Minnesota

* * *

Dear Marvin,

This is my second letter to you. You were kind enough to print my first letter in your premier issue. I have retained every issue; they are treasures to me. You have done more for us long-time cigar smokers since Sam Paley's "El Producto" and "La Palina" days.

This letter is to give your article, "A National Crisis" and Russell Baker's column, "The Danger Stage" a factual boost that will lay to rest the hysterical unsubstantiated ravings of Rep. Henry Waxman and his misguided cohorts. I have a story to tell. Bear with me.

In 1938, at the age of 20, I was living in Philadelphia. In July we heard that Washington had decided to hold a big combined celebration to honor the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Washington would bring all of the Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in that battle as well as others, who were still around, of course. The federal government would invite them to commemorate that battle, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be there to greet them. They would be honored in parades and by the usual speeches. Being somewhat of a history buff--and Gettysburg being only about two hours away by train--I bought a ticket.

The place was decked out like a huge Fourth of July party, which indeed it was. Hundreds of tents were sprawled over the battleground, the Union and Confederate tents were all mixed together, so there would be no separation. I wandered about, stopping to talk to the men in some of the tents. Seeing some of them smoking cigars or pipes, I offered a few cigars here and there. They all thanked me. Then I found out, that in addition to the food that was served to them, every veteran was given by the government a ration, every day, of two cigars or some pipe tobacco and two shots of whiskey for the entire four days of the affair.

To my knowledge, none of the vets turned down any of it, and none of those men were under 91. I really think they all enjoyed the tobacco and whiskey more than they did the festivities.

The U.S. mint struck 27,000 silver half dollars to commemorate this event. They are quite beautiful. On one side are the portraits of Union and Confederate veterans, on the other is a Union and Confederate shield together.

In conclusion, I am enclosing, a partial list of some well-known personalities who were (some still are) smokers, some moderate, some heavy, as well as the ages that they reached (some are still alive).

Thought I'd dedicate this listing to Henry Waxman. So much for him and his paranoid followers.

Thomas Edison (84), Mark Twain (76), George Burns (98), Milton Berle (85), Lucius D. Clay (80), J. Nance Garner (99), H. L. Mencken (76), Omar Bradley (88), George Marshall (79), John J. Pershing (88), Marlene Dietrich (92), Bette Davis (82), Edward G. Robinson (81), James F. Byrnes (93), Henry L. Stimson (83), Dwight D. Eisenhower (79), Dean Acheson (78), Alben Barkley (79), Bernard Baruch (95), Irving Berlin (102), Bernard Berenson (94), Herb Block (86), Winston Churchill (93), Henry Steele Commager (91), Armand Hammer (92), William S. Paley (91), David Ben-Gurion (85), Otto von Bismark (83), Georges Clemenceau (86), Charles DeGaulle (80), Alexander Kerensky (89), Lajos Kossuth (92), David Lloyd George (82), Harold MacMillian (92), Golda Meir (81), Sam Rayburn (80), Josip Broz Tito (88), Chaim Weizmann (78), Edna Ferber (83), Robert Graves (90), Lillian Hellman (79), W. Somerset Maugham (91), George Bernard Shaw (94), Samuel Eliot Morison (89), Albert Schweitzer (90), Andrew Carnegie (84), Henry Kaiser (85), David Sarnoff (81), Hoagy Carmichael (82), Duke Ellington (75), Rudolf Friml (92), Frederick Loewe (87), Cole Porter (71), John Phillip Sousa (78), Don Ameche (83), Brian Aherne (84), Fred Astaire (86), Jack Benny (84), Charles Boyer (79), Billie Burke (85), James Cagney (87), Leo Carrillo (81), Maurice Chevalier (84), Cary Grant (82), Busby Berkeley (81), Ray Bolger (83), Donald Crisp (94), Paulette Goddard (85), Rex Harrison (82), John Houseman (86), John Huston (81), Sam Jaffe (93), George Jessel (83), Otto Kruger (90), Paul Lucas (77), Frederic March (78), Groucho Marx (87), Raymond Massey (87), Ken Maynard (78), Lloyd Nolan (83), Jack Oakie (75), Pat O'Brian (84), Walter Pidgeon (87), William Powell (92), George Raft (85), Claude Rains (77), Katharine Hepburn (87), Randolph Scott (89), Norma Shearer (81), Mae West (87), Ed Wynn (80), Adolph Zucker (103), Billy Wilder (88), Bea Wain (77), Elsa Lanchester (84) and Rudy Vallee (85).

Take into consideration that this is only a partial list of well-known personalities. It should lay to rest the remarks by our surgeons general and other misinformed people, both in the medical profession and out, that "smoking cigars is dangerous to your health." It further goes on to state that Rep. Henry Waxman and his misguided followers are way off-base in their statements.

Irvin Golden
Phoenix, Arizona

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Dear Marvin,

You can thank my father for yet another subscriber to your fine magazine. I am 26 years old and heading for law school in a few days. Happily, I managed to schedule an extended vacation with my family. Over the past two weeks, he and I have enjoyed several cigars on the deck of his home on Cape Cod. Having never smoked anything but the eight-for-$1.25 variety, I was amazed at the taste and feel of a good hand-rolled cigar. Dad clipped for both of us, and we spent hours talking about everything from politics to women to Cigar Aficionado.

I will never forget our late-night talks under the stars and the ritual of smoking will always be part of those memories. I have never been closer to my father and I'm grateful that cigars gave us a reason to sit and ponder the mysteries of the universe. As a result of our visits, I have ransacked his back copies of your magazine in an effort to become more well versed in cigar lore. Armed with my own subscription, I will pick the cigar we smoke next time on the deck.

Scott Goebel
Bedford, New Hampshire

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Dear Marvin,

As a 29-year-old professional who has been enjoying fine cigars for only about a year, I sometimes consider myself a rookie. In fact, if it hadn't been for your magazine, I'd still be smoking less expensive cigars and only at poker games and on the golf course. Now, much to the chagrin of my wife, I'll enjoy a fine cigar such as a Partagas Robusto, an Aliados Rothschild or a La Gloria Cubana Wavell at every opportunity I can find. Unfortunately, since I don't smoke in my house, these opportunities can sometimes be rare, except for this past weekend.

When visiting my parents, one of the benefits, besides the great meals and seeing Mom, Dad and my two sisters, is patronizing the local cigar shop. This particular cigar shop has almost every brand and plenty of them--all at competitive prices.

Recently, I walked in toward the back of the store, where the good cigars are kept, and noticed a gathering of gentlemen all smoking cigars. As I got closer, I overheard the topic of discussion: the differences between Dominican and Honduran cigars. I grabbed one of my favorite smokes from the shelf, had it clipped and lit and joined their conversation. Even though I did not know any of these gentlemen, there seemed to be an instant bond among us: cigars. For the next hour we smoked and talked about everything from the Cuban embargo to the plight of today's cigar smokers. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who truly enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures as opposed to people who don't know what they're missing.

I returned home to my wife and family only to hear complaints about the cigar aroma that had evidently remained with me.

Marc A. Graziano
Brewster, New York

* * *

Dear Marvin,

I have always smoked in my home. My wife has never objected and has even purchased cigars for me on special occasions.

Two years ago, after smoking cigarettes for her entire adult life, she quit--cold turkey. When I asked if she would like for me to stop smoking in the house, she adamantly refused and said that she actually liked the fact that I continued to smoke because it gave me pleasure.

Last week, after reading through your latest issue, I laid it down and left the room. When I returned, she was leafing through the magazine and then proceeded to read it from cover to cover. While she will never become a cigar smoker, she has told me that she likes your magazine so much, she intends to read every issue.

Keep up the good work!

Paul Pepe
Syosset, New York

* * *

Dear Marvin,

There are several things I would like to say in this letter. First, I am 20 years old and a senior at Illinois State University and I have been smoking cigars since age 13. I must say, the journey from sneaking my great-grandfather's White Owl Miniatures to openly enjoying Arturo Fuente Hemingway Classics has been nothing but pleasurable and it keeps getting better.

Since many of your readers are relatively young, I believe it would be of interest to us if you would print an article that focuses on younger cigar smokers. In any case, I would at least like to know how many of your readers fall into this age category.

Your Summer 1994 article, "The Privileges of Membership" inspired me to begin the project of forming a cigar club at Illinois State University. I immediately called Charlie Barley, the founder of the Florida State University cigar society, and asked for guidelines in creating a club. I am currently gathering members for the club.

Your magazine is by far the best thing that could have happened to cigar smokers everywhere. Keep up the incredible quality.

Please print my name and address so that I may hear from all who wish to offer me information and/or advice in my project or anything else.

Thomas Hendricks
413 Carter Street
Stanford, Illinois 61774

* * *

Dear Marvin,

I am delighted that the Autumn issue of Cigar Aficionado includes my opinion-page article. However, I am concerned with a couple of the editorial changes.

The first occurs in the last sentence of paragraph five. It states, "However, this procedure revealed only a 1.19 to 1 percent increase in lung cancer...which is not considered significant. Although very small, this increase is statistically significant at the 5 percent level using a one-tailed test."

The second occurs within the parentheses of paragraph six. It reads, "Most scientific studies demand a minimum three to one ratio of risk to prove a causal relationship..." In fact, a two to one ratio is generally sufficient.

These are obviously technical issues. The general conclusion that the evidence reveals little reason for concern over secondhand smoke still stands. Nevertheless, I feel I should make these points clear.

Mark Edward Stover
St. Louis, Missouri