On September 11, I was watching the coverage of the many memorial services honoring those who were victims of the attacks five years ago. During the coverage, my mail arrived and in it was my copy of Cigar Aficionado. I had already spent most of the day watching the coverage and reflecting on the terrible events of that day. Having spent over 20 years in the securities industry, I lost a number of friends as well as some casual acquaintances on that horrific day. I had spent a good part of my life in and around the World Trade Center and was supposed to be there later that week. I know my life will never be the same, and I can't imagine anyone who wasn't in some way affected. I started thumbing through the magazine as the television was showing the services from Ground Zero and the Pentagon. I decided it would be the right time to pull out a special cigar from my humidor and reflect upon how fortunate I was to be alive and to remember those who weren't. It was an emotional time and it really hit me how lucky we are to live in a country where personal freedom and liberty are the cornerstones of what we stand for.
As I looked at the pictures people sent in of their families and friends celebrating and bonding (with each other and cigars), I was listening to the speeches and interviews of those who were directly involved in the attacks. I found the juxtaposition of all of these events incredibly overwhelming enough to sit down and write this letter. Everything started to seem a little more special today. The freedoms that we have and the lives that we lead can't be taken for granted, and I never will again. I thought of how much we owe to the soldiers that fight for our freedom at home and abroad as well as the men and women of law enforcement that serve us at home. I also salute the everyday people that took control of Flight 93 to prevent the further destruction of this country. The articles in that issue also reminded me of the lifestyle choices that we have.
Many times we don't realize what it means to be free and have the ability to make choices. I know after reflecting on the events of the past five years that I will never again take for granted what it means to be an American. We may not all get along or agree on issues, but that is OK. We are blessed to live in a society where we are free to disagree. We elect our leaders and we throw them out if we don't like the job they are doing. We live in a country where we are free to speak our minds and not be afraid of being jailed or executed for having a view contrary to those in charge.
I am extremely proud to be an American as I know that so many people are. I just wanted to take the time to reflect on this special day what makes this country so great. So many of the articles and pictures in that issue hit close to home and I guess it just made me even more sentimental and patriotic than usual. The one thing that I propose is that in the coming years we use September 11 as a day to come together as a country, and not only to remember those who died but to celebrate all of those things that make this country great. It would be a great tribute to those who fell on 9/11 and in the years of conflict that followed. I think the United States is the best place in the world to live and we should never forget it.
San Francisco, California
Editor's note: Amen. Check our editors' letter this issue on page 27.
As a firm believer in smokers' rights, I think there should be a full week that smokers of all tobacco products abstain from all bars and restaurants that do not allow smoking. Business owners should have the right to establish a smoking environment or not. The Boston Tea Party worked, so let's have a tobacco party. We all know tobacco is money, so let's hit the bureaucrats and liberals in their pocketbooks. I know you get letters all the time about how our rights are being stripped. Let's take action, starting with you, and establish a date—maybe even a whole month—and hit the media with ad campaigns. It may hurt a little, but we have to fight.
Clementon, New Jersey
I discovered your magazine last December when I had my first cigar. It was a cold night and I sat on my porch with an Arturo Fuente Hemingway Signature and your magazine, and I could feel that it was a match made in heaven (despite the fact that I couldn't feel my nose).
I started smoking cigars not because of their supposed buddy-buddy image of wealth, but because they are a celebration of life and of art. Up until this point, at the age of 18, I had been cursed with more afflictions than you could shake a stick at. I had finished my 22nd surgery (an aggressive, highly invasive spinal surgery) less than two years prior, and had grown accustomed to weekly medical procedures and daily medicines. I was constantly stressed as I tried to keep both my education and health as top priorities. Then I found cigars—not the most healthful way to relax, but the taste, the smell, the camaraderie and the beautiful art won me over before my better, rational and thrifty side could speak. And at the same time I discovered your magazine. So I'd just like to say thank you for continuing to support my peace of mind (and spending habit).
Rhinebeck, New York
As a current subscriber of your great magazine, I would like to share an incident with you that recently occurred to me.
During the last week of July 2006, I was spending time in South Lake Tahoe. A close friend had recommended the Lakeside Inn and Casino just east of the state line. Both my wife and I planned an evening of table and machine gambling. Upon entering the casino, I saw no signs that smoking was prohibited.
However, I did see several guests smoking cigarettes. After my wife chose a gaming machine, I started to smoke a cigar.
Minutes later, I was approached by the casino security and told I could not smoke the cigar. I asked the security guard if I was in a "no smoking" area. The security guard replied no, but said that the casino did not sell cigars and therefore I could not smoke one inside. I asked the security guard if everyone in the casino had purchased cigarettes from them. Naturally, I got no reply.
I often visit casinos in Nevada and California. I have never heard of such casino policies and believe the rule is ludicrous. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Naturally, I stopped my wife from gambling and left the casino. Additionally, I have sent a letter to the casino regarding my dissatisfaction.
If you find this newsworthy, I would like you to share all or part of this story with your subscribers. I plan to never patronize this casino again.
My name is Thomas Steshko and I am a corporal in the Marine Corps currently deployed to Camp Fallujah, Iraq. My friend, Cpl. Irby Fletcher, and I are recon- operators with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. While deployed here in Iraq, we conduct long and tedious patrols throughout our area. This job can be stressful and taxing on the body, which is why it is very important to find activities that allow us to relax and chill out after an operation.
Irby and I have found our ultimate relaxation in fine cigars. Every chance we get at night when we are back in camp, we put aside time to sit, relax, have a good conversation and smoke fine tobacco. This activity has grown from an occasional event into a tradition. Nothing relaxes us better and relieves stress like our cigar time. We now have our family and friends sending us fine cigars from our hometown tobacconists. When time permits, Irby and I are constantly communicating with our families about our favorite brands, lengths and ring sizes, and about the high-rated cigars we read about in Cigar Aficionado.
Irby and I just wanted to show our appreciation for your magazine and the great articles concerning the cigar and tobacco culture. Those articles keep us up to date with the latest and greatest cigars, brands and events. We are often left jealous and yearning for the many cigars showcased in your magazine, but for now we happily settle for what our family and friends send us.
So thanks again, Cigar Aficionado, for promoting and enriching the cigar culture. Irby and I appreciate it very much and we look forward to the day when we can sit in our local tobacco shops back home and "burn one."
Cpl. Thomas "Stitch" Steshko
Cpl. Irby "Arrow Maker"Fletcher
2d Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Co., 1st Plt
I know you must receive numerous letters relative to new areas being ruled as off-limits to cigar smokers. I was so surprised by a recent bit of cigar-smoker prejudice that I felt you and your readers should be made aware of it.
I have been retired and residing in Las Vegas for the past five years. My wife and I became very fond of the Rampart Casino (a Marriott hotel), located at 221 North Rampart Boulevard in Las Vegas. Twice a week we drive there to enjoy dinner in one of their fine restaurants, and then go our separate ways for a few hours: she to her video poker machines, and I to the sports book. This evening I did my usual thing—sat in the smoking section of the sports book and started reviewing the racing forms for thoroughbred racetracks that were running. As I made a few selections, I lit up a beautiful Cuban Montecristo No. 2 and ordered a coffee from the cocktail waitress.
After no more than five delicious puffs, the sports book manager approached and told me I either had to immediately extinguish my cigar or leave the sports book. I couldn't believe it. They serve no food in the sports book. They only have a bar along one wall, with the room divided in two: one half for nonsmoking, the other half for smoking. When I asked why, I was simply told that they had a lot of complaints about cigar smoke. As I looked around in disbelief, I counted 27 people puffing away on cigarettes! This was a first for me. No cigar smoking in a Las Vegas sports book! Anyway, it was no problem for me. My wife and I simply went down the street to another casino whose management hadn't lost its mind, and I finished my delicious Monte.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Americans have had a love/hate relationship with tobacco for over 200 years. During colonial times, it was believed to be a cough remedy. In the nineteenth century, it was believed to be an aphrodisiac. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, it became the most diabolical scourge in American history. Today, no reasonable person would deny that tobacco is potentially harmful. However, smoking is a personal right and is best defined as a risky habit, not a disease or crime that requires treatment or persecutory laws.
I vehemently challenge the so-called war on tobacco, which is a bombastic absurdity because a war, by definition, can only exist between humans in conflict. If there are no weapons, blood or bullets, we're talking about oppression or persecution and government interference of freedom, not war. It's logically impossible to have a war on tobacco (a substance) or poverty (an economic condition).
Regretfully, some people partake in risky behavior and damage their health, but for over 200 years that has been the price of liberty and freedom. Regardless of risk and danger, Americans have the right of choice; nonsmokers and fundamentalists can walk away instead of playing the role of self-ordained smoking police.
According to our founding fathers, Americans have the right of choice and the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness provided we don't violate the rights of others, including smokers and fundamentalists. Smokers can walk into smoky places and nonsmoking fundamentalists can walk away in lieu of trying to police and sanitize streets, beaches, parks and all manner of public places.
Despite the ferocious arguments over the smoking issue, few people really question the propaganda and rhetoric used to justify the so-called tobacco war or the fundamentalist doctrines that drive it. This is because the war on tobacco is camouflaged by two great moral dilemmas of our time—the struggle between two diametrically opposed views of mankind: between man viewed as a responsible rational being benefiting and/or suffering from the consequences of his actions, and man as an irresponsible child, unfit for freedom and protected from risks and danger by agents of the all-powerful, omnipotent, ubiquitous Big Brother state.
Although the war on smokers is typically propagandized as a medical or public health effort to prevent illness or maintain health, actually it is a neo-Puritan struggle to purify and cleanse society of arbitrary evil, not to mention the millions of dollars of profit diverted to special-interest groups. The evil weed is a scapegoat for any variety of problems that beset a given society at a given time in history. Persecuting witches, homosexuals and smokers is supported by custom-made propaganda that looks superficially viable and seems to be reasonable, but not because it really protects society from harm, but because it reaffirms the power system's core values and gives the illusion of safety and security.
The more laws, regulations and scapegoats Americans make, the more safe and secure they think they are. But are they really? Our civil liberties are being seriously violated and if we don't take a stand, there's no telling how far the tyrannical fundamentalists will go. Today it's tobacco. What will be on the prohibition agenda for tomorrow?
Edward D. Balyk
Keansburg, New Jersey
I recently received a copy of Cigar Aficionado from my wife for my birthday and was reading the "Out of the Humidor" entries. Reading this brought back memories of my childhood with my father smoking his Macanudos, which we brought home from our Christmas vacation to Jamaica. I am 34 years old and remember the day I took my first draw off one of those cigars when I was 10 years old.
Throughout my younger years and growing up in an upper-middle-class family, I was exposed to some of the finer things in life. Though it didn't come easily, I continued to smoke cigars as well as introducing my close friends to this pastime into my college years. Even when I met my wife, she never could understand why I smoked cigars, until now.
Today, I work as a deputy sheriff and see things that would make most people thank God for what they have. Even today I introduce my world of cigars to the people I trust with my life. To see the expression when they seal their lips around that masterpiece, taking that first draw, that's what it is about.
I read what Alan Pollak of Newtown, Pennsylvania, wrote in the October 2006 issue and I had tears in my eyes. It's like looking in a mirror. No matter who the individual is or what he does, a cigar is a state of mind. It takes you to that moment in time that you never forget about. You remember the past and relive those special moments with loved ones. Also, thinking about the future and how my three-year-old son watches me light my cigar and pretends to do the same. Thinking about that rite of passage is what it is about.
Today, my wife understands the true meaning of a cigar. It's about that state of mind and that one special moment in time, which continues forever.
Sandy Hook, Connecticut
Recently I attended a charity auction for Heartbeat International in Tampa, Florida. At the end of the evening, I went to see what I had won and to pay my tab. The clerk opened my file and said, "Oh my, you have quite a list."
I was aware of a few items I would probably win, but couldn't imagine on what else I was the lucky bidder. In the group were two Panama hats, two folk art trays from Mexico, a piece of pottery from Romania and a box of Baccarat Churchill cigars from Honduras.
Before I go on, I must tell you I am a female and I don't smoke cigars. In fact, in my area of south Georgia, I don't know anyone who smokes cigars. What I was bidding on were memories of happier times and I had won them.
Back in the mid-'70s, I met an artist who smoked cigars. We lived in another area where it was impossible to get good cigars and he was a mail-order customer of a smoke shop in Washington, D.C. Whenever he traveled to another city, the first thing he looked for was a smoke shop in order to try something different.
When we started seeing each other, he talked about the romance of cigars. He was a ruggedly handsome Hemingway type who appreciated the finer things in life. Wanting to know why he was so fascinated by cigars, I bought a couple of books to read, not only to gain cigar knowledge, but to impress him.
The first gift I ever gave him was a box of Bering Corona Royales—at that time a 40-cent cigar—which I ordered from a shop in Columbus, Ohio. He was always a most gracious receiver of anything I gave him and let me know that he had never received anything he appreciated as much as these cigars. I think at that moment he decided I might make a good life partner. (I am sure all his previous lady friends abhorred this "filthy cigar habit" and let him know it.)
Needless to say, we did marry and even opened our own smoke shop, bringing fine cigars to our area. Later, we opened another shop in Florida. I loved working in the shops and introduced many people to the finer cigars available to them. We visited the cigar factories in Tampa and also the little factories in Miami where Cuban families had set up shop.
We took fishing trips to Canada in June when the mosquitoes were hatching and would probably have devoured us had we not repelled them with our cigar smokes. We had stopped in Toronto and bought real Cuban cigars, and my husband had brought along his own stash, and all of us, including my 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, smoked cigars purely for survival. It was a sight to see them trying to puff on a cigar while reeling in a fish.
Later, the cigar business became very tough. It seemed that at every downtown or mall event, the American Cancer Society had displays outside our stores warning about smoking. It became an economic problem for us and finally we sold both our stores.
By this time, my husband had graduated to Punch, Hoyo de Monterreys and his favorite, Padróns, and went back to getting them via mail order. One of my gifts to him on every special occasion was a box of his favorite cigars. Again, they were his best gifts.
My husband did not die from smoking cigars, but instantly from a fall. Later, I heard one of the youth with whom I worked say, "Mr. Schmader died as he wanted, with a cigar in his mouth and his dog by his side."
A few years later, when my husband's beloved dog died, I had her cremated and put their ashes together. When we went to give the ashes a water burial, my son brought out a cigar and we all smoked it almost to the end and put those ashes with theirs and sent them away together. My husband would have been proud.
During our years in the cigar business, I had learned to identify many different brands of cigars by their aroma. After my husband died, I wasn't around many cigar smokers and had forgotten their wonderful aroma.
Last fall, I attended a dinner and wine tasting in Tampa, and as we got outside the restaurant, I detected a familiar aroma. I mentioned to my daughter and son-in-law that someone was smoking a Punch or Hoyo de Monterrey. The lady in front of me turned around and said that was her husband's cigar I was smelling. We began talking and I told her of my cigar past and how I missed those times. She told me her father was Frank Llaneza, owner of Villazon and maker of Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars. We talked for some time and she said she couldn't wait to tell her father about meeting a woman who knew all about his cigars.
What am I going to do with a box of fine Baccarat cigars? I teased my friends, telling them I was going to advertise on e-Harmony with an ad saying: "A very nice lady with a box of very fine cigars looking for a gentleman who can appreciate both." I doubt I would get a response, but that is OK. I have my box of cigars to remind me of a time when people appreciated romance and cigars and other fine things and took the time to enjoy all of them. The Panama straw hat with the braided horsehair band looks pretty good on me. I may just put it on and go sit on the beach and smoke those cigars myself.