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Cigar Insider: Michael J. McFadden, Author of ‘TobakkoNacht: The Antismoking Endgame’

24 Oct 2013

[Editor's Note: See the end of today's article to learn how to win a free copy of this book.]

Michael J. McFadden’s new book, TobakkoNacht: The Antismoking Endgame, is an in-depth, carefully documented exploration of how tobacco opponents work. With an Ivy League education and no financial interest in tobacco, McFadden presents technical material in an engaging and understandable format, mixing humor, statistics, anecdote, stories, and surprises. We recently exchanged emails for the following [edited] interview.

TNcoverStogie Guys: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got involved in researching and writing about tobacco?

Michael J. McFadden: The issue of scientific integrity and telling the truth was always important to me. Seeing people unjustly gain at the expense of other people on the basis of lies always angered me, and it’s something I’ve seen throughout the antismoking movement.

My concern with what drives human conflict and allows people to tolerate the suffering or killing of others goes back to my college years and my Peace Studies program. Yes, thermonuclear war is a much more important issue than a smoking ban at the local bar, but they’re both based on people being led to believe lies that lead them to feel it’s OK to attack some other group of people… a dehumanizing of another group.

I first became aware of and concerned about this issue in 1976 when a housemate showed up at our West Philadelphia nonviolence training center with a fistful of leaflets from ASH that were clearly filled with lies and exaggerations. Those lies split our community and helped to eventually destroy our training center altogether, but I didn’t have the background knowledge to be able to fight them effectively. That was really when I began researching the issue.

SG: Your new book, TobakkoNacht, has a somewhat unusual structure. How would you describe it? And how does it differ from your earlier works?

MM: TobakkoNacht is structured to appeal to and benefit several different audiences simultaneously. It has some sections of very serious and fairly complex material, and others of a more relaxed design for quick reading in small units or in environments where one might be distracted during one’s reading.

It’s a book that a less-serious reader can enjoy jumping around in while benefiting a lot along the way, while a more knowledgeable activist or researcher will still find new perspective and knowledge from sections like the extensive “Studies on the Slab.” The opening story sets an emotional tone that is later justified by the explorations of science, and the closing “Endgame” section wraps it all up and provides suggestions for the future. Finally, over four hundred detailed endnote citations thoroughly back up its material while opening the door for further research.

SG: What do you want readers to come away from your the book with?

MM: I hope my readers will come away from the book with several benefits: (1) a greater appreciation of the harms and dangers of the antismoking movement and how they can extend far beyond smokers and far beyond the particular question of smoking; (2) a greater appreciation of how their perceptions, feelings, and behaviors have been consciously manipulated by a strategic distortion of science, language, and statistics; and (3) a better idea of how to fight this sort of misinformation and an appreciation of why it’s important to stand against the special interests that promote it.

SG: Is there a single activity or individual that worries you most in terms of attacking smoking?

MM: I don’t think I could pinpoint any particular person or group as standing out as most “worrisome” in their attacks on smoking. The ones who are the most honest tend to have little money and may be the most effective in educating people about actual smoking hazards and reducing overall numbers of smokers, but I don’t see that sort of honest education as an attack.

The ones living off the mega-millions in grant money may get the biggest microphones and have the most persuasive propaganda broadcast over TV, but they also tend to be the ones telling the biggest lies, and are thus easiest to fight successfully. Free Choice activists are not trying to get more people to smoke, we are trying to ensure that those people who DO decide to smoke are treated fairly and that their decision, and their treatment by society and by people around them, is based upon accurate information and understanding.

SG: What are your own smoking preferences?

MM: My own smoking preferences lean toward smoking about 10 to 15 cigarettes a day, non-filtered, with a preference toward roll-your-own tobaccos.

SG: What actions do you recommend for individuals who want to do something?

MM: As an immediate recommendation I’d point people to my website at TobakkoNacht.com where they can read selections from the book and to the SmokersClubInc.com website where they’ll find a wealth of information and articles throughout 730+ weekly editions of its newsletter. I’d also recommend visiting and reading the material at Forces.org, AntiProhibition.org, TCTactics.org, and the many Free Choice sites and blogs those links will lead to.

I’d also urge readers to get active in local politics whenever questions of smoking bans come up, print out and share copies of my short and superficial, but sharp and free, “Lies Behind The Smoking Bans” (http://tinyurl.com/SmokingBanLies), and to join and support the various groups active in the fight: Big Tobacco is fighting for its own interests, not necessarily ours. We need to fight for ourselves.

TobakkoNacht: The Antismoking Endgame is available through Amazon and other online book sellers. And in an effort to help spread the word, Stogie Guys is going to give away the inscribed copy McFadden sent us. Just comment below and we’ll select a winner at random after a week.

-George E

photo credit: TobakkoNacht.com

Cigar Insider: Bob McDuffee of DogWatch Cigar Radio

3 Dec 2012

As cigar podcasting pioneers, Bob McDuffee and Dale Roush caused quite a stir when they announced last month that they’ll cease regular programs of DogWatch Cigar Radio at the end of the year. With more than 400 shows, the podcast has explored just about every aspect of cigars and expanded to a wide-ranging website, CigarMedia.tv. They’ve also introduced numerous smokers, retailers, manufacturers, products, and cigars to a world-wide audience.

I’ve been a listener since the show’s debut back in 2005 when it wasn’t quite so cigar-centric. I finally met Bob and Dale, as well as Bob’s wife, Liz, earlier this year when they held a DogWatch Herf across the state from me in Melbourne, Florida. So, when I heard the announcement I decided to follow up by email with Bob.

Stogie Guys: First, I understand Dale recently suffered a mild heart attack. How is he doing?

Bob McDuffee: Dale is well. The issue was minor, although he is looking ahead to surgery. For now he is resting at home and doing well.

SG: What are your cigar plans after the show ends?

BM: My plans are open-ended. After almost eight years of being on the show every Friday night (there were two shows I missed), it feels strange. Kind of like retiring and having lots of time on your hands. There have been several requests to continue the show in some format, and I am considering those. I hope to do more writing on the site as Cigar Curmudgeon and perhaps do short video/audio segments for release as well, but on an irregular schedule. I also have some comedy video ideas in my head that I cannot seem to get out. I recently began riding a bicycle again and have an idea for making your bicycle smoker friendly. Also, Google+ has become my micro-blog and it pushes out to Facebook as well as Twitter.

SG: You and Dale built up quite a following through the years. Are you planning to keep in touch through other ventures?

BM: Cigar Curmudgeon has always been a vehicle that I wanted to do more with, since writing is an activity I enjoy. Liz and I are planning to attend more events now that we have some free time. I think that after a short hiatus I will be longing for ways to reconnect. We have made so very many friends over the years, and I want to stay in touch with all of them. I will miss getting to talk with so many wonderful people from all over the globe. We have listeners in France, Great Britain, and the Middle East that we have never met in person but feel like they are part of the DogWatch family.

SG: Any idea how many weekly listeners you have?

BM: Our most recent statistics indicate about 20,000 downloads per month.

SG: What’s your biggest takeaway from DogWatch? What things have made the biggest impression on you?

BM: DogWatch opened the door for Liz and I to become certified through Tobacconist University, meet many friends, and be a part of a wonderful industry. It is difficult to name one single takeaway, but if I had to I would sum it up as the people. Manufacturers, retailers, and cigar passionados all made the effort worthwhile. Dale has been a great partner in this, and I will miss our weekly get-togethers.

SG: A lot of cigar podcasts have come and gone since you and Dale started. What’s the secret of your longevity, and what advice would you offer someone who wants to start?

BM: My advice would be don’t underestimate the time and work required. It helps if you have no social life, and you must have the support of the significant people in your life. Without the support of Liz all these years I could not have given up so many weekend trips, Friday nights, and money to make this happen. You have to really enjoy what you are doing to make it last. We have sincerely enjoyed DogWatch and the people involved in it. Life takes its own direction sometimes. Over the course of this show Dale and I have changed and grown in so many personal ways. Since starting DogWatch in 2005, I have lost my mother, one brother, grandfather, both in-laws, and been blessed with six grandchildren. I have smoked thousands of good cigars and a few not so good cigars. DogWatch has forever made an imprint on my life.

StogieGuys.com would like to thank Bob for taking the time to talk with us, and we wish Dale all the best for a speedy recovery.

-George E

photo credit: CigarMedia.tv

Cigar Insider: Michael Frey of Casa Fuente Las Vegas

13 Sep 2012

Five years ago I interviewed Casa Fuente General Manager Michael Fayerverger for one of our first “Cigar Insider” interviews. Over half a decade later, I decided to check back in on Casa Fuente, one of the most iconic cigar destinations in the U.S.

This time I interviewed Michael Frey, proprietor of Casa Fuente (as well as Rhumbar) in Las Vegas. Our discussion included my favorite drink on the Casa Fuente menu, a new Casa Fuente blend, and the Aruro Fuente Cigar Company’s 100th anniversary.

Stogie Guys: How have the past five years been?

Michael Frey: Business has continued to grow over the past five years and each year we’ve added a lot of new customers who love the experience and continue to come back.

SG: Even though we’re doing this interview by email, I suspect you have a cigar lit while you write your responses. What cigar is it?

MF: How did you know? It’s the new Casa Fuente Series 5 Special Selection 806.

SG: You’ve added to the Casa Fuente cigar line this year. Tell us about the new addition.

MF: It’s called the Casa Fuente Series 5 Special Selection. There are three cigars, the 806, 807, and 808. All three have a 50-ring gauge and range from robusto to short churchill. They feature a Havana-seed, Ecuadorian sun-grown rosado wrapper and the binder and filler are secret tobaccos from the Fuente’s farm blended by Carlito.

SG: This year is the 100th anniversary of Arturo Fuente Cigars. Any special events planned at Casa Fuente? How about special cigars?

MF: On the Saturday night of the Las Vegas Big Smoke, Carlito will be cutting a giant birthday cake. As far as cigars go, you never know what Carlito will do.

SG: As the owner of Casa Fuente, you have access to some of the rarest Fuente cigars. Which ultra-rare Fuente is your all-time favorite?

MF: I have two, the Brain Hemorrhage and the P.J.

SG: Anytime I’m in Vegas I have to stop by for one of Casa Fuente’s Don Carlos Caipirinhas, which uses a tobacco-infused Grand Marnier float. I’ve had caipirinhas all around the world, including Brazil, but that’s my favorite. Can you shed a little light on that recipe?

MF: The intense, smoky flavor comes from the Grand Marnier float which features an infusion of an aromatic pipe tobacco. It was developed by Francesco LaFranconi, a master mixologist for Southern Wine & Spirits here in Las Vegas.

SG: Because of the warehouse fire that wiped out some of their most prized tobaccos, the Fuentes have said that some of their 100th Anniversary Celebration cigars will be delayed until next year. Any insight into what we can expect?

MF: From what I understand, there will be an introduction of several new brands under the Opus X brand name, including the Angel Share which I smoked recently when Carlito came to Las Vegas for a visit. It was heavenly, living up to its name.

Many thanks to Michael Frey for taking the time to answer our questions. If you even in Las Vegas, I highly recommend stopping by Casa Fuente for some fine cigars and beverages. Speaking from personal experience, it is well worth the trip. My personal favorite is a pairing of the original Casa Fuente cigar and a Don Carlos Caipirinha.

-Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Insider: Chris Edge of Dona Flor USA

17 Jul 2012

Last month it was announced that Dona Flor, a top brand in Brazil for years, would be reintroduced to the American market with a handful of new blends, including Seleção and Puro Mata Fina. StogieGuys.com recently spoke with the man who is making this reintroduction possible: Chris Edge, owner of Dona Flor USA.

Stogie Guys: We were fans of Dona Flor back in 2005 when the brand was first available the U.S. What were the legal issues that ended U.S. distribution?

Chris Edge: Dona Flor became available in the U.S. back in 2000. There were a few smaller distributors who were attempting to get them established. In 2005 they really began to get some attention as most Americans don’t even know that Brazil has tobacco, let alone of its quality. In 2007 there were some problems, probably caused by poor communication and an unclear contract which resulted in a trademark infringement case being brought to the courts. The litigation stopped the importing of the cigars until about 2009, when a distributor (who is married to a Brazilian) began to bring them back into the US. The case was settled out of court in December 2011. The actual details of the settlement are unknown and both parties agreed not to discuss it. The public records are available in the Miami Dade County public records if you really want to dig into it. Other than that, there is little I can tell you, or really even want to get in to. It was very unfortunate that things happened the way they did as these are some of the most consistent, quality-grown, and quality-controlled cigars in the industry and had a very good following when they stopped importing them due to the litigation. My focus has been, for the past two years, to feel out the market on the past, how it affected the consumers, what was the overall perception of the brand and the cigar, and how to reintroduce it.

SG: The press release that announced the reintroduction of Dona Flor to the U.S. market labeled you a “cigar enthusiast and successful business man from Denver.” Can you tell us a little more about your business background, or any previous experience in the cigar industry?

CE: In a nutshell, between my wife and me, we have raised eight children. Yes, I said eight. If that right there doesn’t qualify you for a medal in patience, market trends, and changes from year to year, I don’t know what does. I spent 35 years in advertising and marketing in corporate America. I retired from the last company after 20 years for health reasons, pretty much sick and tired of being sick and tired about the entire corporate experience. During that time I spent 18 years involved in union-company relations. Overall, the entire business is a people business, I loved working the streets, being face to face with the store owners, still do to this day. During that time I was also my own real estate remodeler and would buy, fix up, and sell my own houses, each time getting a little bigger. We always seemed to live in a construction zone but I think that was just a stress reliever for me over the years. After I retired in 2005, I continued into the real estate arena with my wife and did very well until that industry collapsed. From there I spent some time in the mortgage industry only to discover more corporate disillusion and started a distribution company in 2008 which eventually led me into the cigars. I have been an enthusiast for over 20 years and truly enjoyed the product for what it really is: an opportunity to capture a moment in time and to enjoy that moment for all of its virtues. That particular moment of forgetting about the worries of life and to enjoy just being, the place you are at, who you are with, the weather at that moment, the conversation everything. Whether I would be sitting on my back deck having a fine scotch, or wine with friends, or looking for a little white ball I just hit into the bushes, it’s all about the moment. I stumbled into an IPCPR Trade Show in Vegas while attending another show and it just all came together. The energy, the people, the entire industry. There really is a reason they call us enthusiasts. From there things just happened and so here I am.

SG: Why take on the distribution of Dona Flor, and why now?

CE: That’s a very good question because if it were anything but this line I probably would not be doing what I am now. Regardless of the passion I have for enjoying my time and my life with a good cigar, there is still a business side to it. I wanted something different, something that no one else had, something that gave consumers a different angle to try. Dona Flor was the perfect fit. Menendez Amerio has been growing and rolling cigars for 35 years now. Arturo and Felix are both Cuban descendants who spent time in the family business of growing tobacco until Casto took over. That is another story that you should hear sometime. Anyway, bottom line is that there were no 100% Brazilian cigars on the market despite the fact that Brazilian tobacco has been used in some of the finest cigars for decades. So this gave me the niche that I was looking for, a top quality product, currently unavailable. A huge target market that is constantly changing taste and looking for something new and different. A perfect fit.

SG: Approximately how many U.S. retailers do you expect to be carrying Dona Flor products after this summer’s trade show? Are you marketing to online retailers or B&M tobacconists only? Are you also aiming for distribution in Canada?

CE: I would like to see our product in over 300 stores by the end of the year. I have spent almost two years preparing for this release. I have been talking to consumers, distributors, and retailers, listening to their needs and how best to service them. The litigation problem really caused more issues than you might think, mostly because the retailers and consumers were not informed of the situation and the product just simply vanished. Out of sight and out of mind. The distributors were frustrated because they had access to a great product and put themselves on the line only to be let down. There is a huge trust level between distributors and their retailers and that has to be respected. Our focus is to support the B&M retailers—these are the back bones of this business. The internet business is a great business just not for this particular brand or product. We are doing everything we can to keep them out of the online sites and make them available only to quality distributors and quality tobacco tobacconists. Right now my focus is strictly on the U.S. market and getting it reestablished. From there, who knows? Our current efforts are getting calls from around the world. Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zeland, Israel. We must be doing something right but for right now it’s one step at a time. U.S., here we come.

SG: It looks like all of the new Dona Flor blends are Brazilian puros made from MataFina, Mata Norte, and Brazilian-grown Cuban-seed tobaccos. Are there any plans to incorporate non-Brazilian tobaccos in future blends? If not, do you feel this somewhat constrains the ability to grow the brand?

CE: With the exception of the Connecticut wrapper, yes, they are 100% Brazilian. There are no plans to begin mixing non-Brazilian tobacco at this time, mostly due to the import/export duties and laws. Menendez Amerio also has a line called Alonso Menendez which we will begin showing in 2013. I don’t believe that it limits us at all. If anything, I think it helps to define us. I don’t want to be constantly trying to introduce a new label. I don’t think the market needs more labels (and I know that the retailers don’t want to have to try and carry it). My goal is grow the brand as an original, as a top quality cigar that you can always count on. We are smoking cigars, not labels. Right now, I have my plate plenty full to keep me busy for a while. This is America, things can change with the wind so you never know. But right now, it’s all Brazilian, baby.

SG: We remember really enjoying a Dona Flor blend called Alonso Menendez back around 2006 or 2007. Are there any plans to reintroduce this blend?

CE: Yes there is. The Alonso is a fantastic line and a little more full-flavored. It is extremely popular in Brazil and Europe and we plan on introducing it aggressively next year. But for the re-launch in the US, Dona Flor has a much stronger name recognition to build on, so we decided to solidify one brand before bring in another one.

SG: Where would you like to see Dona Flor in five or ten years?

CE: I would like to see Dona Flor be established for what it is. Truly the first and finest quality Brazilian cigar available. Period. The story of Dona Flor, the cigar, where it came from, how it got its name, how it is tied to the book and Brazilian culture is really an amazing story. The movie Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1977) became the highest grossing Brazilian movie in their history and has held that title for 35 years. That says a lot about the book, the movie, the cigar, and the Brazilian people.

SG: Other than Dona Flor creations, what are some of your favorite cigars?

CE: There are so many great cigars that it is hard to just name a few. What I am finding in my selection process is that I tend to look for consistency in a cigar. I expect it to be as good as the last time I smoked it and that really narrows down the field. There are certain brands that you can always count on being exactly the same no matter where you purchase it. Montecristo and H. Upmann, to name just a couple. I also enjoy sampling different sizes and shapes and seeing how it affects the experience and flavors. Bottom line is that I like a cigar that draws well, has character, smokes clean, burns clean, burns even, does not get too hot, gives me that long beautiful ash…every single time. Not to be prejudiced, but Dona Flor gives me that.

Thanks to Chris Edge for taking the time to talk with StogieGuys.com. You can learn more about Dona Flor USA here.

-Patrick A

photo credit: Dona Flor USA

Cigar Insider: Matt Urbano of Urbano Cigars

21 Dec 2011

I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Urbano of Urbano Cigars last month while visiting Tampa. He introduced me to his line of cigars and handed me a three-pack sampler with an Urbano Corojo, Urbano Sumatra, and Urbano Connecticut. Urbano Cigars is a boutique line offering three different wrappers. Their cigars are not mass-produced, or rushed into the market for catalog or discount wholesalers. Urbanos are solidly constructed with aged long-filler and binder tobaccos that have been triple-fermented. Urbano Cigars are rolled in the same manner as many Cubans to ensure a cool draw with an even burn, then finished with a double-cap.

I tried the Sumatra right away and was pleased with its bold taste, smooth even burn, and quality construction. Matt was on his way to the Ybor City Cigar Heritage Festival where Urbano Cigars had a tent beside the Arturo Fuente family and across the street from Cigar Rights of America (CRA). We talked cigar blends and production.

Stogie Guys: Urbano Cigars are relatively new to the market. Tell us how you got started.

Matt Urbano: My passion for cigars began 20-plus years ago while working in the restaurant industry. As an executive chef passionate about food, rich flavors, and complex textures, I worked in many restaurants and private clubs throughout the northeast. After I relocated to Tampa I quickly became steeped in the local area’s rich cigar history and became friendly with a master cigar blender that travels regularly between Tampa and the Dominican Republic. Trusting my new friend and his own palate I took my passion for flavor and teamed up with this cigar master to create the ultimate line of cigars. Urbano Cigars has a full line offering three different wrappers that will meet any cigar smoker’s needs from the casual smoker to the aficionado. I invite you to share the smooth draw and rich, complex flavors in each carefully blended and hand-rolled Urbano Cigar.

SG: Tell us a bit about the three different wrappers that you offer and a little bit about your philosophy on blends.

MU: The Urbano Corojo is a true Dominican puro with first-generation Cuban-seed tobaccos aged for three years and triple-fermented. It has a medium to full body with a reddish hue blended from carefully aged Dominican tobacco. You’ll find a hearty, complex flavor with a hint of spice at the open, followed by hints of roasted nuts and smooth cedar undertones. Wait till you spark one up: a Cuban-like flavor with nothing less than a mesmerizing and delectable aroma. Sizes and MSRPs: Robusto $7.00, Toro $7.10, Torpedo $7.20, Churchill $7.40, 6 x 60 $7.50.

The Urbano Sumatra is aged for two years and triple-fermented. It is medium-bodied with an eye-catching, chocolaty, satin wrapper. Enjoy this cigar from start to finish with the continuous flavors and solid white ash, sweet, earthy flavor turning to a creamy chocolaty smoke with a light leathery finish. The wrapper is Sumatra, the binder Indonesian, and the filler is Dominican. Sizes and MSRPs: Robusto $5.00, Torpedo $5.20, Churchill $5.40, 6 x 60 $5.50.

The Urbano Connecticut is aged for two years and triple-fermented with a beautiful, silky smooth wrapper light brown in color. Well-balanced with a cool, slow, even burn. It has tasty floral notes along with a bit of cinnamon and dash of nutmeg. An excellent choice for your morning smoke to accompany your favorite coffee. Wrapper is Connecticut Ecuadorian, and both the binder and filler are Dominican. Sizes and MSRPs: Robusto $5.00,Torpedo $5.20, Churchill $5.40, 6 x 60 $5.50.

SG: For a new cigar business, or for a cigar business in general, what kind of challenges do you currently face and what can you do about them?

MU: I strongly feel in today’s world the biggest challenges to a cigar retailer are the aggressive anti-smoking bans. Every cigar smoker, from the guy that smokes one cigar a year to the person that smokes regularly, should be a member of CRA. As a manufacturer the challenges of getting my line out to new retail shops is much harder than it sounds. You want to get to know your local retailer and get plugged into their event list. I offer brick and mortar cigar shops great deals throughout our product line along with marketing materials and support. We do not have order minimums and are open to working with the retailer to meet their needs.

SG: What sets Urbano Cigars apart from the rest of the marketplace?

MU: Our cigars are not mass-produced. We focus on quality, one cigar at a time. We do not rush the process and all of our tobacco goes through a triple fermentation.

SG: Are you offering any kind of special on your website? If I’ve never tried an Urbano Cigar, what is the best way to get started?

MU: We offer many specials on the website for people to start small and get an introduction to our lines by sample packs. We also offer excusive monthly deals though email to people that sign up to our list. I always say just don’t visit the site, sign up for our list. Our members get specials all the time. Our current special is a mixed box sampler along with a travel humidor and cutter.

SG: You had a booth at the Ybor Cigar Festival. What other trade shows or events do you plan to visit? Where can our readers meet you (other than online)?

MU: The main event that is geared towards retailers it is the yearly IPCPR. We had a booth last year in Vegas and will be in Orlando in 2012. I love to get involved with local events and am always looking to do more local events. I also support many of the local cigar store events throughout Tampa Bay. Cigar stores are my home away from home. Be sure to check out UrbanoCigars.com. Sign up to follow us and be the first to see what’s new and where we are heading!

Special thanks for Matt Urbano of Urbano Cigars for taking the time to talk with Stogie Guys. You can visit him online here.

-Mark M

photo credit: Urbano Cigars

Cigar Insider: Behind the Scenes at the Local Cigar Club

12 Oct 2011

Cigar clubs are a great way to get together with friends, try some new cigars and spirits, check out a local cigar shop that you’ve never found time to visit, and sit and bond with your fellow cigar enthusiasts. Women have book clubs, men have cigar clubs. I recently sat down with Paul Medenwaldt, president of The Havana Nights Cigar Club from the Twin Cities, who gave me the lowdown on running a cigar club.

The club meets on the first Tuesday of every month at a shop called Little Havana Tobacco in Anoka, Minnesota. Started by a group of guys who wanted to get together with like-minded people and try new cigars, it also became a vehicle for a local cigar shop to bring more people through its doors—people who otherwise might have never stopped by.

When I asked Paul about the club’s membership and their experience as cigar smokers, he had this to say: “Most of the cigar club members are not guys that hang out on a frequent basis at cigar shops. This is their one day a month to get together with friends they may only see once a month. Most of the cigar members are beginners, but have been developing their palate over the years with the introduction to new cigars that the club smokes.

“We try to get new cigars that come to market that the members normally would not know about or try. A lot of them know what they like and only smoke those cigars, but if they enjoy a cigar the evening of the club, they will then search it out at their local shop or online.

“There are only a handful of guys who are hardcore cigar smokers that frequent local cigar shops multiple nights a week and know what cigars are available in the market. The same can be said for the spirits we sample. We do our best to present the members with unique whiskeys they would not have in their own collection, like Ardbeg or Highland Park.”

When it comes to picking cigars, like a book club would pick a book, the club tries to focus on new cigars that have come to market. “After the yearly IPCPR event,” says Paul, “I will search out cigars that manufacturers are introducing to the market. This October we are featuring the new CAO OSA Sol. It’s the first release from CAO since being acquired by General Cigar.”

But with so many new cigars to choose from, how do they decide on only one per month? “The difficult part is trying to select from so many new blends. I almost wished we met on a more frequent basis so we could have the opportunity to try all the new cigars. Our club for years voted on the following month’s cigars and spirits. The last few years the club members have put that decision in the hands of the president.”

It’s easier for one person to pick the cigar than for 30 people to decide. And some of the members don’t really care what gets smoked, they just want to socialize and try new things. There are monthly dues which go towards the purchase of cigars and spirits, so when you arrive on club night, your cigars and drinks are already there. The club also holds raffles for cigars and cigar accessories.

When I asked Paul for advice on starting a cigar club, he offered the following words of wisdom: “It’s finding like-minded people who can make a commitment once a month and are willing to try cigars they may not of tried otherwise.”

He continued: “Decide on what the purpose of the club will be. Is it an evening where people get together and just smoke a cigar and have a spirit? Will the focus be to review the cigar you are smoking and to publish those results for the rest of the world to see?

“Starting with core members who are dedicated to cigars, the word will get out and others may be interested in joining. Have the club meetings on a weekday. It may sound weird, but more people are available on weekday evenings (they are then less likely to get stinking drunk because they have to get up the next morning). But the focus should be on the cigar.”

The Havana Nights club often works with local cigar shops that are open to hosting a meeting. Some shops may be willing to stay open later if it means new cigar smokers will be visiting their shops. Shops will always have new cigars they are willing to promote to new people the evening of the cigar club.

“My experience is that I am selective when it comes to new members. You want to make sure they are there for the cigar and fellowship and not just for an evening of drinking. Start with core members who are knowledgeable and then find people who may be novices to cigar smoking but are willing to learn about new cigars. The challenge will be getting to those novices because they probably don’t hang out on a regular basis at a cigar shop and may only walk in and walk out of a cigar shop with their purchase or are online only purchasers.

“It’s about getting the word out there that a cigar club is available in a local area and using a simple website and social media to provide people with information about the club. Work with a local cigar shop, hang flyers in the shop promoting the club, and explain how it will differ from their regular visits to the cigar shop. You have to give the people a reason to show up. And write a simple constitution for the club so new members can read what they expect to get out of the club.”

Once a club is up and running it pretty much takes care of itself. Paul will arrive early to make sure all the cigars and spirits are ready for when the members arrive and greet each member as they walk in.

I had the pleasure of spending an evening with the Havana Nights Cigar Club and found it to be a very relaxed atmosphere dedicated to discussing cigars, sports, food, and whatever it is men talk about when they get together. You can imagine that I had a pretty good time. If anyone would like advice on starting or running a cigar club, Paul Medenwaldt welcomes your emails.

-Mark M

photo credit: Flickr

Cigar Insider: Lisa Figueredo of Cigar City Magazine

12 Sep 2011

Cigar City Magazine, the vision of Lisa M. Figueredo, is Tampa’s premiere magazine for information about the history of the Tampa Bay area. Lisa feels passionately about her blended culture, history, and family and started the magazine as a celebration of her heritage.

Stogie Guys: How did Cigar City Magazine get started?

Lisa Figueredo: I owed an ad agency and was up late one night working and was thinking of when my Abuelo Lee and Abuela Nena would have fresh hot Cuban bread and butter waiting for me when I woke up with some hot café con leche. Then my Abuela Nena and I would catch the bus and ride over to Ybor City for the day or sometimes my Abuelo Lee would take me to the local cigar factories to pick up the steams and waste from the tobacco leaves that he would use to spread on people’s lawns. I was thinking about how much I missed them and how I wished I could get those days back. That’s when I came up with the idea to write about my stories and the history of Tampa.

I come from a long line of people who made a difference in Tampa. My family on my father’s side boasted the first Mayor of West Tampa who was instrumental in helping Jose Martí spark the Cuban Revolution and win independence from Spain. His name was Fernando Figueredo. On my mother’s side, her Great Grandfather Enrique Henriquez was the last Mayor of West Tampa. My Great Grandmother was also Carmen Ramirez who was a famous actress from Spain and was instrumental in raising money for the local theaters in Ybor City.

SG: What is the best part about being the publisher of Cigar City Magazine?

LF: The best part is giving back to the city I grew up in and love so much, and giving a voice to its past. People don’t realize the rich history we have here in Tampa and how lucky we are to be a part of it. If one article touches one person’s heart when they realize that, that’s the best part.

SG: What makes Cigar City Magazine different from other cigar publications?

LF: Contrary to our name, we do not rate cigars or write about individual cigars. Instead, we focus our stories on the cigar factories and how they got here. We also do feature stories on famous cigar pioneers like Arturo Fuente, Angel Oliva, J.C. Newman, and more. I got the name because back in the heyday of the cigar factories, Tampa was once nicknamed “Cigar City.” By the late 1960s, after the embargo of Cuba, factories were closing and many were going to machines. The name got lost until 2005 when I resurrected it by calling the magazine Cigar City. Seems now-a-days everyone is using it: Spirit of Cigar City, Cigar City Brewery, Cigar City Tattoo Convention, Cigar City Darlings, etc. People ask me all the time if I get upset when I see people using my trademarked name and I say, “Hell no!” We are Cigar City and I’m just happy I was able to make it come back alive. Plus, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

SG: How much space do you dedicate to cigars, cigar industry trends, and Tampa’s local cigar bars and shops?

LF: It’s hard to talk about Tampa without talking about the cigar industry. Though most of our stories are about history we do try and throw in a few things for our loyal cigar connoisseur. In our last issue we did an interview with Pete Johnson, owner of Tatuaje Cigars, and we have written stories about the famous cigar families and factories. We never rate cigars nor will we ever because we are Cigar City and we love them all.

SG: One of my favorite issues is the Fidel Castro Mob issue. Are there any forthcoming stories or issues that you are really excited about?

LF: I love each and every issue, but if I had to pick three, I would say our Mob issue, our Cuba issue, and the Cigar Woman issue. You can read them online right here.

SG: Talk a bit about some of your recurring features like “Mama Knows,” “Café Con Leche,” and the “On the Town” photos. What can readers expect from these, and other regular features in the magazine?

LF: “Mama Knows” is probably one of our most widely anticipated columns. Mama does not have a subtleness about her when it comes to giving advice; she tells it like it is. We left her out of an issue one time and I almost had a revolt on our hands from the readers. Mama gets more emails than any other staff member. Our “Café con Leche” is a cool column and mainly we interview famous and even sometimes a few infamous people now and then. Our “On the Town” is a great way to thank my readers. It’s mainly photos of them at all of the events we do or go to.

SG: Who is involved in the magazine? Tell us a bit about the major contributors.

LF: Cigar City is made up of many writers who, for the most part, just want to write about the history of Tampa. Some of these writers are famous, like Scott Deitche, author of Cigar City Mafia, to the daughter submitting a story about her father that worked in a cigar factory, to the professor at a major university. Then of course we have the great historian, Emanuel Leto, who also works at the Tampa Bay History Center, who really has made this magazine possible. Paul Guzzo, who used to write for La Gaceta, gives us many great articles like “Sleeping with the Enemy,” which tells how the Hillsborough Sheriff Office traded guns to Fidel Castro for the release of Santo Trafficante, Jr.

SG: Tampa has always taken great pride in its history and Cigar City Magazine has always celebrated that history. With such a rich history of cigars, the Cuban, Spanish, and Italian cultures, baseball and bolita, how do you decide what goes into the magazine?

LF: It’s not easy. The best way I can explain it is like this: Remember when you got that first new bike and you wanted to show it off to the whole neighborhood and you just couldn’t wait? It’s like that with many of our stories. We usually always have so many in the pipeline it’s hard to choose. But I guess that’s what has kept us around for seven years…having good material for every issue.

We thank Lisa for her willingness to sit down and talk with StogieGuys.com. Please visit Cigar City Magazine on the web to find the latest issue and subscribe. Or, if you live in the Tampa area, be sure to pick up the latest copy.

-Mark M

photo credit: LinkedIn