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Commentary: Shining a Spotlight on the Subject of Freebies

21 Nov 2013



Don’t be surprised if you begin seeing numerous reviews of the new Romeo y Julieta line, the Nicaraguan RyJ, as well as some giveaways. Altadis, the manufacturer, has engaged not only in the common practice of mailing three-pack samplers to cigar bloggers, it added a twist.

freebies“We wanted this experience to be magical, that’s why the first 15 bloggers who send me the link of their magical, innovative, and creative RyJ reviews… will receive a box of the new RyJ to share with fans and friends,” RyJ’s brand manager wrote in a followup email.

The issue of freebies can be divisive in the cigar world. It led to a flap at IPCPR, some smokers resent bloggers and reviewers receiving samples, and small cigar makers often see them as their best way to gain exposure.

After spending my career at newspapers where ethics was always a concern, I may be a little more sensitive to this issue than many. As with so many things, the more you examine it the greater the complexity.

Flying around the world with the Secretary of Defense? Seems pretty simple that the Defense Department has to be reimbursed. Having a cup of coffee with a university president? Refuse to let him pick up the check and you run the risk of appearing to be a sanctimonious ass.

Most papers where I worked had guidelines on freebies. Often, there was a limit allowing accepting of things valued under $10 or $20 to avoid that cup-of-coffee conundrum. Perhaps the most common freebies were books and musical recordings, which could nearly inundate the newsroom. One placed I worked auctioned the collections off a couple of times a year and donated the proceeds to charity, another gave them to institutions such as VA hospitals.

What to do about cigars can, likewise, be vexing.

First, I must say that the bloggers I’ve met do this because they love cigars and the industry around them, not for what they might get. Frankly, I’d be very surprised if most of those RyJ boxes don’t end up as contest prizes for their readers. (That’s what we’d do with such a freebie.)

Second, I can’t really say how many samples most bloggers get, only that I’ve received a lot at IPCPR and a relative handful throughout the year. Third, without samples there’d be a lot fewer small-label reviews or even knowledge about those cigars. Fourth, my practice is generally to go through my humidor a couple of times a year, cull a pile of smokes, including freebies I’ve received, and dispatch them to the troops.

Here at Stogie Guys, we keep it pretty simple. We don’t go looking for free cigars. Sometimes, they arrive out of the blue; sometimes, manufacturers email first to ask if we’d be interested in doing a review. When we write about cigars, we make it clear if they were samples. (You can read all our policies here.)

-George E

photo credit: Flickr

Drew Estate