Last night President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address. In that spirit, I offer my thoughts on the state of the cigar industry as we enter 2016.
In many ways, the state of cigars is as strong as it has ever been. This is our tenth year publishing StogieGuys.com, and the cigars being released today are of highest quality they have ever been.
Consumers are better educated, and they demand more of their cigars. Cigar companies have largely delivered better quality and more interesting flavors. One of the best trends is that new competition continues to challenge the status quo, which drives up quality.
Take a look at various top cigar lists and you’ll see lots of newer companies represented. Fortunately, their success isn’t a result of more established companies slacking off. Rather, the bar is continually rising. I honestly believe the tenth-rated cigar on most “Best of 2015” lists would have beat the number one cigar five or ten years ago.
Another sign of the health of the state of cigars is the fact that even those who have achieved the financial success to walk away rarely do. Statistically, when someone announces they are stepping down or retiring from a job in cigars, it most likely just means they are planning their return, armed with the lessons of their experience.
At the cigar shops you can see how all this benefits cigar smokers. The days where the vast majority of cigars for sale in most shops are made by a handful of the largest companies are increasingly in the past. Cigars have to earn shelf space more than ever, and companies large and small are upping their game to compete for that valuable space.
In short, cigar smokers have more and better choices than ever before. That’s the good news. But there are dark clouds on the horizon.
Impending FDA regulation continues to hover over the cigar industry with the potential to devastate the thriving competition that we’re enjoying. The fact that we enter 2016 without those regulations is a good sign, but literally any day regulations could be finalized. One cigar company executive told me not long ago that he expected many smaller cigar companies couldn’t survive FDA regulations, and I’m afraid that’s probably true.
The delay in the finalized FDA rules shows there is division within the executive branch over the extent of the need for regulation over cigars. While that’s a testament to the work of organizations that lobby for cigar rights, it doesn’t change the fact that the only way to fully stop FDA regulation would take an act of Congress. Going forward, cigar rights groups would benefit from more long-term strategy, instead of pinning their hopes to last-minute Hail Mary attempts to slip riders into massive appropriations bills.
Elsewhere, cigar rights are on defense, too. Smoking bans are not being repealed anywhere, while proposals for expanded bans and increased tobacco taxes continue to flourish.
We have work to do. There may never have been a better time to be a cigar smoker. Keeping it that way, though, won’t be easy. The old saying is eternal vigilance is the price of freedom; when it comes to the freedom to enjoy cigars, that has never been more true.
photo credit: Wikipedia