Archive | July, 2008

Stogie News: House Votes to Regulate Tobacco Under the FDA

31 Jul 2008

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 326-102 to place tobacco under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration. The move would give FDA bureaucrats the ability to regulate tobacco as well as tobacco advertisements, a power that both Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach oppose. In a statement (pdf) released today, the White House threatened to veto the bill if the Senate passes a version pending there and sends it to President Bush’s desk:

“The bill would mandate significant added responsibilities for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that conflict with FDA’s mission of ensuring the safety and effectiveness of drugs, biologics, and medical devices…

Requiring FDA to oversee the regulation of tobacco products would not only distract the agency from its oversight of food, pharmaceuticals, and medical products but could be perceived by the public as an endorsement that these products are safe, resulting in more people smoking.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Representative Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-MD) made clear that the goal of the bill wasn’t to make cigarettes safer, but to regulate tobacco to reduce its use: “[Smoking] has a huge cost to our society. We have an opportunity to put an end to that…”

The bill would be a significant step towards the FDA declaring all tobacco products unsafe and thus prohibited. As we’ve written before, in an interesting twist, the law forbids the FDA from certifying that some forms of tobacco are safer than others, despite a mountain of evidence, meaning that the only “regulation” the FDA would have at its disposal would be limits on advertising or bans on certain types of tobacco products.

While the bill’s primary target seems to be cigarettes, it could have dire effects on cigar smokers. Besides being another step down the road to complete tobacco prohibition, FDA regulation may mean substantially limited advertising of cigars in magazines and also potentially on websites such as this one. If FDA mandates mean that cigar makers have to worry about nicotine (or other chemical) levels in cigars, it would stifle the creativity that has marked the cigar industry in recent years.

The bill also includes a prohibition on flavored cigarettes (although, oddly, it contains an exception for Menthol). While it is not clear that the flavored smoke ban would include cigars, if it does flavored cigars like Acid and Havana Honeys could be made illegal. Further, demands for “safer” tobacco products could mean a de facto prohibition for handmade cigars which, unlike cigarettes, cannot change their chemical makeup because they are entirely natural products.

Patrick S

photo credit: FDA

Stogie Commentary: Common Discourtesy

30 Jul 2008

Not long ago I enjoyed a cigar with one of my best friends and his new wife in the backyard behind their house. Large, airy, and lushly landscaped, this is the sort of place I hope to own someday. Backyards are at a premium here in Los Angeles, and to me they’re more important than the houses built around them. They can be shared with friends and family, or they can be intensely private places of tranquil meditation and uninterrupted reflection. If people elsewhere around the world take such open space for granted, here we consider it sacred and inviolable—a small, but personal plot held fast against the encroachment of a sprawling, noisy, and land-hungry city.

This particular backyard was, as I’ve said, pretty big by LA standards. Unfortunately, the view was “fenced in” on the west side by a neighbor’s addition to her home—an ugly, three-story guest house with a window overlooking my friend’s entire yard. Nevermind the fact that building a three-story structure is illegal in this part of the city; what was particularly onerous about this building was its violation of my friend’s privacy. In shape, form, rule-flouting design, and hostile spirit, this building pretty much embodied the neighbor herself. She, a 70-something widow, was notoriously paranoid, litigious (again, ironic, given that her guest house was in clear violation of building codes), angry, and conniving. She was always around, never left her house, and never ran out of excuses to harass or even sue her various neighbors.

And on this particular day, as we smoked in peace, or so we thought, we’d noticed her popping up every now and then from behind the curtain in that watchtower window. She’d appear for a few seconds, glower at us, then disappear. Eventually she thrust open the window and started shouting at us. She demanded that we extinguish our cigars, as the smoke was “choking her to death.”

We complied, if only because she was old and because she was so lawsuit-happy; pressing the conflict just wasn’t worth the time and expense, even though my friend probably would have prevailed in court.

But part of me couldn’t help thinking that we were simply appeasing a madwoman. For one thing, there was basically no way that the smoke had drifted the 50-odd feet into the air, up toward her sealed window, and through it—an especially difficult feat given that the wind was blowing in a different direction. More likely than not, she had been spying on us and was simply looking to pick a fight, as is apparently her modus operandi. She and my friends hadn’t been getting along ever since they moved in next door, and this was one more complaint in her endless litany. She was bullying them, establishing dominance. If they didn’t challenge her this time, she probably figured, she could keep getting her way in the future.

The real question, however, is this: What would you have done in this situation? Have you been in such circumstances before? Does your neighbor have the right to complain about what goes on in the confines of your private property? And will such situations arise more frequently in the future, thus giving the anti-smoking lobby a proverbial invitation into our houses?

Jon N

photo credit: Flickr

Stogie Reviews: Arturo Fuente Casa Fuente Double Robusto

29 Jul 2008

As with many of Fuente’s high-end cigars, the Casa Fuente line carries with it a certain mystique. This blend, for instance, is available only at the Casa Fuente store at the Caesar’s Palace Forum Shops in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is the cigar lounge’s house blend, positioned and priced to rival the OpusX as Fuente’s most exclusive consumer offering.

Recently, Patrick S. and I smoked a few while kicking back with some surprisingly manly tangerine mojitos at the Casa Fuente bar. A quick word about those mojitos, actually: They’re quite strong, and it’s entirely possible that they may have affected my ability to judge the Casa Fuente double robusto accurately and clearly. Fortunately, the mojitos also compelled me to buy a few more sticks on my way out the door—so I’ve been able to smoke some later on, in the clear light of sobriety.

At any rate, this handsome cigar sports a leathery Cameroon wrapper and a secret blend of what I believe to be Dominican binder and filler leaves (reportedly the same binder and filler as the Opus X). It is impeccably constructed and rolled, as one might expect from a rare Fuente cigar. Smooth, firm to the touch, and oily as sin, this 6.5 inch by 52 ring gauge cigar exudes luxury. The pre-light smell is deep, rich, earthy, and slightly sweet. The cap clips easily, and the draw is firm but forgiving.

Upon lighting up, I detected a lot of earthy flavors and some faint pepper in what I’d call a medium-bodied smoke. Occasionally I’d get some leather notes, and every so often I’d encounter a cinnamon-sugar sweetness that was quite fascinating. This sweet-spicy profile was much more evident in the cigar’s aroma; its intoxicating smoke carried that mysterious “Fuente smell” that only seems to show up in high-end Fuente blends. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s got some cinnamon, some leather, and some vanilla to it.

While these flavors and smells were complex and enjoyable, they never varied. And that’s unfortunate. Many of the best Fuentes I’ve had wove different flavor profiles on and off the palate as they progressed. This cigar, however, played a much more consistent (and persistent) tune. Ordinarily I wouldn’t fault a cigar for lack of flavor transition. But when a stick carries a $25 price tag and is this hard to find, I expect not just good, and not just great, but practically sublime things.

For flawless craftsmanship, great flavor, and a beautiful nose, I’d be inclined to award the Casa Fuente double robusto a perfect five stogies. But I’m taking one away for lack of nuance. On the balance, this lovely stick gets four stogies out of five.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Jon N

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Stogie Reviews: CAO L’Anniversaire Cameroon Robusto

28 Jul 2008

On the heels of my colleague’s thoughtful commentary that encouraged us to “not consider ourselves too macho, too old, too cool, or too proud to smoke mild or medium sticks,” I bring you this light-bodied creation from CAO.

Introduced in 1999 to celebrate the company’s first 30 years of business (1968-1998), the Cameroon blend sports a Cameroon wrapper and Nicaraguan binder and filler tobaccos. The series was preceded by a L’Anniversaire Maduro version in 1998. Both have received high ratings from Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider—with several vitolas over 90 points—and both are considered to be box-pressed pioneers.

The Cameroon blend is touted as a mild to medium-bodied experience with “unique and distinctive notes of caramel, nuts, and sweetened coffee.” I was surprised to see several websites claim the series is one of the “most sought-after” premium cigars on the market.

The 5 inch by 50 ring gauge Robusto is characterized by a handsome, sepia-colored wrapper that often includes one prominent vein. It has a pseudo-spongy feel and an easy pre-light draw, but a cross-section reveals tightly packed leaves.

After toasting the foot and establishing an even light, the stick gets off to a worrisome start with a bland, paper-like taste and just a hint of the sweetness you’d expect from other Cameroons. The flavor thankfully builds over the next few inches to include notes of almond, graham, and honey.

While the overall effect is still pretty light and airy, there’s certainly plenty to taste, especially when a cedar spice adds into the mix down the stretch. The physical properties are admirable and in line with what I’ve come to expect from CAO. My take is this cigar’s smooth creaminess is well-suited to accompany a morning cup of coffee.

My only complaint is the price. Two of my favorite Cameroons, one from Cuban Crafters and the other from H. Upmann, sell in the $4-5 range; this Robusto goes for about $7.50 apiece or $115-130 per box of 20. Still, if you’re looking for something mild—as you probably should from time to time—this isn’t a bad investment. I give the CAO L’Anniversaire Cameroon Robusto three out of five stogies.

[To read more cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Ashton Cabinet Selection No. 6

27 Jul 2008

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar

First I noticed a green spot on the wrapper. While likely just the result of errant moisture hitting the Connecticut shade wrapper during curing and fermenting and unrelated to smoking, it’s still annoying for a $10.50 cigar. But that was nothing compared to the burn problems I had with this 5.5 inch by 50 ring gauge medium-strength cigar. I experienced more canoeing than you’ll see at the Beijing Olympics. By the time I had finished, the cigar had gotten more touch-ups than Joan Rivers. The Ashton Cabinet is a fine tasting, smooth, and complex cigar with a great finish, but even for someone who favors flavor over construction this was too much.

Verdict = Hold.

George E

Guest Quick Smoke: H. Upmann Magnum 46 (Cuban)

26 Jul 2008

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief take on a single cigar. The following is a Guest Quick Smoke, submitted by a reader. If you’d like to submit your own for publication, please contact us.

With a very oily and ruddy Cuban claro wrapper, this corona gorda is certainly a sight to behold. Indeed, after being supplied with a few of these beauties, my first reaction was to simply admire them resting in my humidor for a number of weeks prior to smoking. After snipping the slightest portion from the expertly applied triple cap with my Xikar scissors, I found the pre-light draw to be very rich with hints of damp earth and fresh roasted coffee. The first third was rather mild to medium in body producing copious amounts of smoke. The draw was free and easy throughout and the intensity did increase as I slowly worked my way through this Habano. This one was most definitely a finger-burner, and by the non-bitter end, I was left hungry for more. Thank God I have a couple left in the box for future enjoyment.

Verdict = Buy.

-Submitted by John from Maryland

Stogie Guys Friday Sampler CX

25 Jul 2008

In our ongoing effort to make as entertaining and informative as possible, each Friday we’ll post a mixed bag of quick cigar news and other snippets of interest. We call ‘em Friday Samplers. Enjoy.

1) It was announced on Wednesday that computer tycoon Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are teaming up to “combat the global tobacco epidemic.” The pair is giving $500 million to developing nations to “implement proven policies and increase funding for tobacco control.”

2) Red tape is keeping struggling Maryland establishments from obtaining elusive exemption waivers to override the state’s oppressive smoking ban. So far only eleven have applied, and only three have been granted, because of the legal fees, accountants, and documents required to file, say business owners.

3) Correction and Amplification: In a review this week several readers commented on the prices listed for the Tatuaje Black and the Opus X. In response, George E did some follow up reporting and has written an update regarding the prices. It can be read here.

4) Inside the Industry: Drew Newman let us know that the Julius Caesar we referenced in last week’s Inside the Industry will not be part of the Diamond Crown Maximus line, but rather a new extension of the Diamond Crown line. Ashton Cigars is releasing a new Nicaraguan version of its La Aroma de Cuba line made by the prolific Don Pepin Garcia to be called the Edición Especial. Imperial Tobacco Group, the world’s fourth largest tobacco company and now owner of Altadis, said this week that U.S. and European cigar sales—particularly premiums—are being hurt by smoking bans and economic slowdown.

5) Around the Blogs: Keepers of the Flame continues its vertical tasting of the Padrón line with the Churchill. Stogie Review reviews the CAO LX2. Cigar Jack lights up a Don Pepin Cuban Classic. Cigar Spy pans the Fuente Anejo Shark.

6) Deal of the Week: Cuban Crafters has more specials online. Particularly notable is the Don Kiki Brown Label Toros, which are available at the incredible price of $39.99 for a box of 25. See all the deals here.

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: NY Times