The past year and a half has been hard on just about everyone. Some have paid the ultimate price, others have lost loved ones, and even the luckiest among us have suffered. The pandemic put normal life on hold, but as we write these words in mid-June the outlook is one of hope. The masks are coming off. People are emerging from their homes. It’s time to take a deep breath and prepare to once again live our lives the way we remember.
With so many negatives since March of 2020, it’s pleasantly surprising to hear some good news—the cigar industry is booming. Imports of premium, handmade cigars were up in 2020—despite a start of the year that shut down cigar stores and cigar factories—and the first quarter of 2021 has been nothing short of remarkable. Cigar sales are soaring at numbers not seen since the late 1990s, with shipments up 47 percent in the first quarter of 2021. In the darkest days of this pandemic, people were looking for sources of pleasure and reward, and that reward became a cigar. Those of us who already enjoyed smoking cigars found more opportunities to light up, and new cigar enthusiasts discovered that a handmade cigar is one of life’s truly affordable luxuries. Show us something else that costs $10 and delivers an hour of pleasure.
We appear to be in a new cigar boom.
Any talk of booms brings us back to the last period of exceptional growth in the cigar market, which began in 1993, right after the launch of Cigar Aficionado. Thankfully, this boom appears to be different than the ’90s boom, at least for now. The 1990s cigar boom caught cigarmakers by surprise and led to depleted stocks of top-tier brands, a void that was filled by newcomers, many of which made substandard product. If you shopped for cigars in 1995, 1996 or 1997, you might remember those times when you couldn’t find one of your favorite smokes and your choices were sometimes unsmokeable. We don’t see that today—not yet—and veteran cigarmakers continue to respond to surging orders. Sure, some small-production rarities are hard to get, but if you walk into a cigar store today you will likely find a wide range of choices, with a generally high quality of product, something reflected in our blind cigar tastings.
As we return to normal, consider the things we’ve been denied. Invite a group of friends over for a smoke. Meet your pals at one of our Big Smokes taking place this fall. Or simply go to your local cigar shop, pick out a great one, take a seat and join in the conversation. The world is getting back to business. Let’s light up and celebrate.