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Commentary: Five Cigar Facts You May Not Know

1 Aug 2013

Five cigar facts of which you may not be aware:

1. The number of people who smoke premium, hand-rolled cigars is tiny. Forget the “crowd” at your local cigar shop or how quickly a hot limited edition sells out. We’re talking hard numbers. No exact figure exists for the number of cigar smokers, but extrapolating from published data shows just what an elite group we are.

cigarstoreindianA 2002 government survey found that 2.2% of U.S. adults identified themselves as cigar smokers. The overwhelming majority of cigars sold here are machine-made, roughly 12 billion vs. 350 million premiums. (And nearly half of the 12 billion are “little cigars,” which are much more akin to cigarettes than to premium cigars.) Do the math, and feel free to round up. It’s about 6.5 million cigar smokers consuming about 12.5 billion cigars, of which fewer than 5% are premium cigars. We’ll make the fairly outrageous assumption that half of the 6.5 million are consuming both, and you’re left with 3.25 million premium cigar smokers. My belief is that it’s considerably under 2 million, which would make it about the size of the Columbus, Ohio, metro area.

2. The cigar business can be an intricate web. Consider these connections. Two of the largest U.S. cigar retailers are owned by two of the world’s largest cigar makers: Altadis, owned by Imperial Tobacco, has controlling interest in JR Cigars, and Swedish Match, owner of General Cigar, owns Cigars International. And don’t forget that Altadis is half-owner of Habanos S.A., Cuba’s tobacco monopoly.

3. Sigmund Freud almost certainly never said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

4. More than a decade before Cigar Aficionado’s 1992 debut, the publisher of the magazine Screw started Cigar, a quarterly that didn’t last.

5. Germany, according to the consumer research firm Euromonitor International, is second to the U.S. as a cigar market.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

7 Responses to “Commentary: Five Cigar Facts You May Not Know”

  1. Ken Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    Your fact #1 is exactly why the FDA and governments (Fed, State, Local) will keep on passing laws we traditionally think of as for cigarettes. And I think that;s why the CRA and cigar smokers have such little impact on those passing the laws. Our voice does NOT register as $$$ going into the lawmakers campaign chest. Already in a lot of areas smokers are being treated as criminals that need to be rehabilitated by force and humiliation. The nanny mentality is prevalent and getting stronger everyday..

    • George E. Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Ken – I wouldn't disagree with your point that the premium cigar industry is never going to wield much financial clout in politics. That's one reason I believe it is so essential to get a distinct legal classification for premium hand-rolled cigars and have exempted from most tobacco restrictions. In this case, I think the small size could be turned to an advantage in trying to achieve this if it's used correctly. I'm not overly optimistic, but I can turn to the recent legalization of absinthe as an example of how things can change.

      • Timothy Black Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:18 am #

        Rumor has it that since Altadis joined the board at CRA, they have helped redefine what a premium cigar is in the language for the FDA exemptions, to include machine mades and homogenized wrapper stuff, thereby protecting their far bigger machine-made business.

        I personally think it's a mistake and fruitless to try to distinguish premiums from machine mades from cigarettes. It's too much to get into here, but I would only say that "tobacco is tobacco" is how the anti-smoking crowds view us. The beer industry made the same mistake in the years leading up to prohibition, not wanting to associate with hard liquor makers and thinking themselves safe and separate from the upcoming prohibition laws. I see premium cigars the same way. It's all tobacco and it is all bad, is what the prohibition 2.0 crowd says.

        Something WILL give with the FDA, it is just a matter of what and how soon. My guess is online and catalog sales will be banned. It's an easy sell. Easier than going after flavored and infused. Then what? JR and CI pop up shops all over the country? We shall see.

      • Mike Friday, August 2, 2013 at 11:41 am #

        The bill that effectively banned most cigarette sales online (it applied to shipping) included cigars at one point, but it was amended to ensure passage. I don't think they'll ban mail order. Places like the much-maligned Thompsons in Florida have been around for almost 100 years. They won't go down so easy.

        JR Cigar already has outlets in much of the country. There is one near my house.

      • Ken Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

        Interesting point. But I think when all is said and done, the "powers that be" will lump all cigars, big or small, onto the anti-tobacco train. I hope not, but I would not bet money on it in today's political climate.

      • Mike Friday, August 2, 2013 at 11:36 am #

        Changing the absinthe laws only took a little more than 100 years; I am not too optimistic on getting handmade cigars exempted from most restrictions anytime soon. The best chance is it gets attached to a must-sign bill for the president, but that is unlikely.

        I am more hopeful, however, that at least some cigars will escape many of the regs applied to cigarettes when and if the FDA gets around to issuing its proposal.

  2. Ira Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    The Screw magazine reference made me smile. I was in JR's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in NYC years ago and behind the counter was a guy I thought I recognized. It was Al Goldstein the Screw publisher you mentioned. He was working behind the counter and looked a shadow of his former self after years of legal and financial battles. I imagine the JR management gave him a job partly out of sympathy, but partly in recognition of his cigar knowledge.