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Commentary: StogieGuys.com Recommends Jacob Grier’s “The Rediscovery of Tobacco”

25 Sep 2019

I wouldn’t normally recommend a book without reading it in its entirety, but I’m making an exception for The Rediscovery of Tobacco by Jacob Grier, released a week ago (available in hardcover, paperback, or digital on Amazon). Grier, a pipe and cigar smoker, has written about tobacco for years in a range of diverse publications including The Atlantic, Slate, Reason Magazine, and even here at StogieGuys.com.

In a post on his website, Grier explains why he wrote the book, and why it is so timely:

How did things get so bad, so quickly? Well, that’s part of why I wrote the book. The evidence that the anti-smoking movement has become dangerously illiberal has been mounting for years. For the past two decades, this has manifested primarily in alarmist claims about secondhand smoke and boundlessly expanding smoking bans. As smoking has become concentrated among the least well-off, it’s been easy for most people to ignore the stigma that now attaches to the habit and the ways that we increasingly infringe on smokers’ liberties. But as governments react to the moral panic over vaping by banning lower-risk alternatives to the cigarette and threatening to imprison sellers of nicotine products, it has become imperative to question the dominant, dogmatic approach of professional tobacco control.

As I’ve quickly read through the first third of the 220-page book, I found one passage particularly resonant. As someone who enjoys the handmade, artisanal quality of premium cigars, Grier’s exploration of whyin an era when craft seemingly everything is praisedthe same hasn’t happened for craft-made tobacco (specifically, in Grier’s example, pipe tobacco) is a particularly interesting question:

Pipe smoking has not become cool, but it’s easy to imagine that it might have. After all, so many other goods emerged from their twentieth century commodification to be embraced as craft, artisanal, authentic, small batch, etc. The marketing invites parody, but one doesn’t need a long memory to know that things have indeed gotten better. Coffee, beer, wine, cocktails, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, meat, you name it: Practically everything we eat and drink has improved in the past few decades, with consumers rewarding quality and not just convenience. Yet despite the predilection of chefs, cooks, servers, and bartenders to smoke, tobacco has been excluded from this gastronomic revival. Why is that?

The answer, not surprisingly, seems to be complicated. Culture, technology, big business, and politics all seem to play a part in Grier’s nuanced explanation:

The Rediscovery of Tobacco takes a longer and wider view, tracing tobacco back to its origin in the Americas and the diverse ways it was put to use around the world. It turns next to how a single product—the manufactured cigarette—came to take over the market, with disastrously lethal consequences. From there it explores secondhand smoke, smoking bans, and the ways in which the anti-smoking movement began replacing rigorous science with ideological fervor. It then moves on to the changing landscape of tobacco regulation, detailing how the biggest tobacco companies shape seemingly public-spirited laws to work to their advantage. This leads into the heated question of tobacco harm reduction and why many leaders in public health are so hostile to products that massively reduce users’ exposure to toxic tobacco smoke. Finally, the book concludes with a case for a more liberal, tolerant, and open approach to nicotine and tobacco use, in opposition to the increasingly authoritarian and technocratic demands of tobacco control.

For the kind of person who reads websites like this one, which are devoted to an appreciation of the finer details of handmade cigars, this is exactly the type of exploration that we need more of. For that reason, we heartily recommend The Rediscovery of Tobacco. Buy it here.

Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXX)

10 Jul 2019

In our thirtieth “Random Thoughts from the Humidor” article, we look at protecting cigars, “CigarCon,” and how to upgrade your Negroni:

Marco Rubio: Congress Must Act to Save America’s Cigar Industry

A must-read op-ed from Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

I support current laws which prohibit minors from smoking, but tobacco is a legal product and it’s wrong for Beltway bureaucrats to snuff out small manufacturers and retailers of premium cigars. Any person who has seen machine-made cigarillos, or fat cigarettes, behind the cash register at their neighborhood gas station knows these products are vastly different than a hand-rolled premium cigar. And yet, unlike premium cigar makers, the large corporations that mass produce cigarillos have the financial means to comply with the FDA regulations so they will continue to be sold in mass quantities.

This overregulation is also unnecessary as it is already illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18. Even the FDA’s own research proves that underage tobacco users are not smoking premium cigars. Premium cigar smokers account for just 0.7 percent of all adult tobacco users and the median age of a person’s first regular use is 24.5 years old.

So what can we do to stop this overreach?

That was the subject of a Small Business Committee field hearing I held in Ybor City this April. We heard directly from the premium cigar industry and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, which makes sure federal regulations do not unnecessarily hurt small businesses. The Office of Advocacy wrote to the FDA expressing concern about the rule’s economic impact on the premium cigar industry, but the FDA ignored these concerns.

If the FDA fails to recognize that the practical effect of its rule will put America’s premium cigar industry out of business, Congress must act to save this iconic industry. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act of 2019, which would exempt the premium cigar industry from the FDA’s misguided rule.

Read the rest.

CigarCon Is On

At the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Trade Show last week (formerly known as the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, or IPCPR) the widely anticipated CigarCon was formally announced. The event will, for the first time, officially open the convention to the average cigar consumer.

The move is being billed as a way to raise more money to fund the lobbying that PCA and CRA do to protect premium cigars from government regulations: “Rocky Patel was brought on stage to sell the event and explained that the legal bills as part of FDA regulations for ‘this year’ have totaled $3.6 million, a burden largely shouldered by the IPCPR and a group of manufacturers that are part of Cigar Rights America (CRA).”

Needless to say it raises a ton of questions, including: How much money can the event really raise for PCA? Will manufacturers be expected to provide cigars to attendees? Will attendees be willing to pay big bucks if they don’t get free samples from manufacturers? Do large retailers (and others like Cigar Aficionado, which puts on the Big Smoke event each year) see this event as competition for their own multi-cigarmaker events?

A Negroni Upgrade

One of my go-to cocktails for years (and one of the few I make with any regularity at home) is the Negroni. The drink warrants its own New York Times trend piece, so apparently I’m not alone. The classic Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. What I’ve especially come to appreciate recently, however, is how those ingredients can be tweaked slightly with outstanding results.

Vermouth matters (my preference is Dolin, especially for the price, though you can never go wrong with Carpano Antica). You can also substitute Campari for another bitter (Luxardo Bitter Bianco and Aperol are each outstanding in completely different ways). Finally, don’t get locked into gin as the base liquor. I’m a big fan of swapping it our for rum, in what has been called the “Kingston Negroni.” Currently, my favorite Negroni is funky Smith and Cross Jamaican rum, Luxardo Bitter Bianco, and Dolin vermouth. But I’m always experimenting.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

Commentary: IPCPR Trade Show at a Crossroads

26 Jun 2019

Next week the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) Trade Show takes place in Las Vegas. It will, without a doubt, be the largest gathering in the handmade cigar industry this year, as it is every year.

Still, there are more questions about the annual convention (and the organization behind it) than ever. And planned changes only serve to heighten those questions.

New Name, New Look

When we first covered the annual cigar trade show, the organization behind it was just changing its name from the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America (RTDA) to IPCPR. The idea was sold as necessary to emphasize that handmade cigars and pipes are different products from cigarettes, which is the most common tobacco product.

This year, IPCPR will again be getting a new name. (You can try to keep these things under wraps, but when you file for a trademark it will become public record.) According to reports, IPCPR will be rebranding as the Premium Cigar Association (PCA).

Why, you ask? Well, on the most basic level, the new name better reflects what the IPCPR is. Plus, for the small number of pipe smokers (and those who supply them), they already strongly associate pipe tobacco and accessories with premium cigar retailers, so there is little incentive to feature pipes in the name (at the expense of having a longer, more complicated name).

I suspect one of the under-appreciated reasons for the change is the opportunity for a new logo. As Seinfeld fans may note, the “cigar store Indian” (the logo of the IPCPR, but apparently being dropped in favor of a leaf for the PCA) is not appreciated by all. In today’s hyper-politically correct environment, eliminating that controversy makes a lot of sense for a group that seeks influence in Congress and in state legislatures.

Still a Selling Show?

The primary reason for the existence of the IPCPR Trade Show has always been for retailers to place cigar orders with manufacturers. Frequently, this comes in the form of new cigars introduced exclusively at the show, and special deals offered to those retailers by manufacturers at the show.

Prior to modern communication (the internet, email, text messages, cell phones, etc…), if you wanted the latest cigars and the best deals there was no substitute for face-to-face meetings at the annual gathering. There are now many on both sides (retailers and manufacturers) questioning the value face-to-face transactions given the costs.

In addition to the availability of other methods of conducting business, the value proposition of the trade show gets further thrown off as manufacturers get nickel-and-dimed all over the trade show floor. Want to hang a sign over your booth? Or have reliable internet? Or food service? Or large displays shipped to the venue? Expect to pay tens thousands of dollars, if not more. Plus, cigar manufacturers that give out samples are, under Nevada state law, supposed to get a license even to give out samples to retailers and other IPCPR members.

Further, from the retailer side, there is an increasing sense that the “trade show specials” are available even if you don’t actually attend in person. Also (as my inbox can attest to), the announcements of new cigars are no longer held until the show starts. Manufacturers seeking attention for their new brands are likely to announce those offerings days, weeks, or even months before the show. And that information is increasingly easy to find publicly with the proliferation of online media.

A Consumer Day at the Industry-Only Trade Show?

For years, the cigar trade show has been billed as an industry-only event, not for consumers. When we first attended, media members were permitted to attend but only with the IPCPR’s permission. Later, media members were required to be members to attend.

Now reports are that IPCPR (soon to be PCA) is considering a Consumer Day for 2020. The concept, so far as the limited details reveal, is that there would be a day where consumers would be welcomed onto the floor. It would be a sharp contrast from past years when IPCPR was apparently cracking down on retailers who were inviting (and, in some instances, selling passes to) customers.

Presumably, this would be a revenue-making day for IPCPR, with cigar smokers paying to attend, much like they do other cigar events. At such events attendees usually get samples from each manufacturer booth, though it’s hardly clear that would happen and some manufacturers have already indicated they aren’t fans of the plan.

Many years ago, such an idea was floated but quickly shut down. One factor in this is the persistent rumors of IPCPR merging with Cigar Rights of America (which is a consumer lobbying group).

If PCA can create “CigarCon” (the presumed working title of the Consumer Day) it could be used to create pressure on CRA to embrace that merger, as it would get PCA the contact information for many of those likely to be CRA’s most engaged members.

Suffice to say, if a cigar event around the cigar trade show actually includes the main owner/principles of each brand, that would be a significant draw for many cigar smokers. But manufacturers are most interested in attending consumer events because they are attached to the largest retailers with whom they do a lot of business; they view attending as a favor to their largest accounts.

Would retailers and manufacturers embrace such an event when they already run thousands of dollars of costs to attend the cigar trade show? Could IPCPR still be a retailer-oriented organization with such an event? Those important questions still need to be worked out.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Gold Star Smokes (Part IX)

3 Jun 2019

It has been over five years (!) since the StogieGuys.com team published a new list of Gold Star Smokes. As you might recall, this special designation celebrates cigars we feel are worthy of extra-strong recommendations. They don’t necessarily have to be five stogie-rated—just commendable smokes we find ourselves turning to time and again.

Co-Founder & Editor in Chief Patrick A

My newest addition to the Gold Star Smokes designation is also new to the market. Since reviewing it in April, I’ve been enamored with Diesel Hair of the Dog. It’s a lightly pressed, toro-sized (6 x 54) smoke with a smooth, golden brown Ecuadorian Sumatra wrapper around an Ecuadorian Habano binder and Nicaraguan filler tobaccos. Sweet hay dominates the pre-light notes. It begins with a Pepin-esque blast of pepper and then settles into a complex profile complete with creamy cashew, white pepper, toast, a bit of cinnamon and, in the final third, a little licorice. It’s an absolute gem from famed cigar maker A.J. Fernandez and well worth the $10 asking price.

Cigar Review: Diesel Hair of the Dog

Co-Founder & Publisher Patrick S

In the past few years the single vitola I’ve purchased, given away, and smoked most frequently is Illusione’s Rothchildes CT. There’s no question that the price (under $200 for a box of 50, if you shop around) is part of the reason. But it takes more than value to be a Gold Star Smoke. Irrespective of price, it is a thoroughly enjoyable, medium-bodied smoke, with creamy, toasty notes, coffee, oak, and hints of pepper. It’s well-balanced and well-constructed. Add in a price tag under a Lincoln, and it’s easy to see why this is a cigar worth seeking out.

Cigar Review: Illusione Rothchildes CT

Tampa Bureau Chief George E

I’d be hard-pressed to guess how many Gurkha Class Regent Torpedoes I’ve smoked since reviewing one over 12 years ago. It is not a complex cigar, but one that is pleasant and consistent. Perhaps the most notable characteristic is the thick, abundant smoke. Like many Gurkhas, the list price, which for this one is, I believe, $11, isn’t what you pay. In fact, it’s the bargain-basement cost that helps make the Class Regent Torpedo so attractive. I’ve paid under $3 each, including shipping, and you can routinely find them for about $3.50. If you’re looking for a companion to a round of golf, a fishing outing, or simply relaxing when you don’t want to concentrate on your cigar, this is one to try.

Stogie Reviews: Gurkha Class Regent Torpedo

The Stogie Guys

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXIX)

3 Apr 2019

Baseball, a return to smoking in sports stadiums, and Fuente Nicaragua… they’re all in this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor.

Baseball: The Perfect Pace for Cigars

We’ve written before about the pairing of cigars and baseball. While there are plenty of reasons why the combination works, it comes down to pace. The leisurely pace of hardball is also the pace of cigars. The 20 to 30 seconds between pitches is the minimum amount of time you want to put your cigar down between draws; the minute or two between half-innings or a pitching change is the opportune moment to refresh your drink, use the facilities, or light a new cigar. Sadly, if you want to watch baseball while smoking a cigar, these days your options are pretty much whittled down to your home or a cigar lounge.

A Million Dollar Idea for Billionaire Sports Team Owners

A long, long time ago (in 2006), StogieGuys.com proposed a cigar night at the decrepit RFK stadium. Why let most of the upper deck go completely empty, when you could host cigar smokers there, at least for a game? We were rebuffed and (I’m just saying) the Nationals have yet to win a playoff series since. To this day, when I see scores of empty seats in a stadium I can’t help but wonder, “Why not host a cigar night?” For example, watching my Mets play the Miami Marlins, I noticed the entire upper deck was not just empty but closed. So why not announce that anytime the roof is open at the park a section of the upper deck will be open for cigar smokers? If any town can pull this off, Miami, with its rich cigar culture, can.

Fuente Nicaragua… Coming Soon

Fuente’s new Nicaraguan factory should be coming online soon. The new factory, called “La Bella y La Bestia,” raises many questions. Most (but not all) Fuente cigars are still under the central Fuente name. Will the new Nicaraguan-made cigars carry the same branding? Or will the Fuentes decide to launch a new brand to distinguish their Nicaraguan offerings from those made at their Dominican factories? Only time will tell, but the prospect of many new, Nicaraguan-influenced cigars should be of great interest to all. (For more on the new factory, cigar smokers will find this interview with Carlito Fuente interesting.)

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Mysteries of the World of Cigars

27 Mar 2019

Like the late Andy Rooney, we all occasionally wonder about things that have no real significance but just seem puzzling. Lately, I’ve been mulling a few of those topics related to cigars.

Do cigar makers really believe we want more baseball caps?

I understand that every company likes to get its name out there, especially with virtually free advertising. And I realize that a few years ago baseball caps seemed to be de rigueur as a fashion accessory. Mercifully, that trend seems to have gone the way of mullets. But cigar companies continue to offer branded caps as an “inducement” to buy their cigars. When we moved last year, I must have pulled a dozen or so unworn caps from the back of the closet and dropped them off at a local thrift shop (where they probably went into the trash).

Why do cigars end up connected to scandal after scandal?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in hot water amid allegations of corruption. And what is among the most mentioned illegal gifts he supposedly received? Boxes and boxes of Cohiba Siglo V. One story even estimated how many hours Netanyahu would have spent smoking the storied Cubans through the years. No doubt the most famous cigar appearance in scandal history was with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. More recently, cigars have come up in the ongoing Mueller investigation. Where did then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his deputy at the time, and Konstantin Kilimnik meet in the summer of 2016? Where else but New York’s Grand Havana Room.

Why aren’t names like robusto and Churchill good enough?

I never cease to be amazed at the “creative” names cigar makers come up for the different sizes of their cigars. Sometimes weird, sometimes funny, sometimes just odd. But whatever the monikers are, does anyone ever actually speak those names? I can only surmise that they are adapted because the urge to be “creative” is overwhelming. Believe me, though, robusto, Churchill, torpedo, etc., have worked fine for years and years—and they still do.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Coming to Terms with Winter

11 Mar 2019

Think you love cigars? Let’s put your adoration to the test. Go out and smoke a cigar in the cold. And, no, I don’t mean 40 degrees. I said cold. Let’s put it at 20 degrees or less (not including windchill). Bundle up, plant yourself in a chair with a cup of hot (not for long) coffee, and fire up a smoke. If you’re sitting still—and if you’re not cheating with, say, a heat lamp or something—I bet you won’t be able to get through a toro. Maybe not even a robusto or a corona.

At some point in the process, you’ll find yourself pondering the futility of the exercise. Isn’t the whole idea behind cigars to enjoy yourself? How can you fully appreciate the enticing aromas, delicious flavors, and handmade craftsmanship when your core bodily processes are shutting down and frostbite is trying to take hold of exposed skin? How can you revel in the complexities of the profile—which surely includes anise, cream soda, and pencil shavings—as your shivering turns into slowed, shallow breathing and, eventually, total loss of consciousness?

Maybe you never have to ask yourself these questions. Perhaps you live somewhere where it never gets legitimately cold, at least not for a whole season. Or, if you do, perhaps you can smoke inside your home. Or there’s a good lounge nearby with decent hours. Or perhaps you commute via car and don’t mind smoking in your vehicle (side note: smoking a cigar while driving is not all it’s cracked up to be).

I used to have a cigar room in my condo in the city.. Now I have a bunch of kids and a house in the suburbs.

 

Personally, I live in Chicago. Winter can be rough, and this one is no exception. I have three small children and no place to smoke inside my home. There are a few lounges nearby, but the hours typically don’t work for me (it’s usually 10:30 PM or later by the time the kids are all asleep, the dishes are done, etc.). And, while I’m often on the “L” or on my way to an airport in an Uber, I’m rarely in my own car. So where and when do I smoke, you may ask?

Honestly, I smoke much, much less in the winter. I really don’t have a choice. It may not be fashionable for a member of the online cigar media to admit this, but it’s true nonetheless.

When I do smoke, it’s usually one of two things: (1) I’ve gotten permission from the wife to be at a lounge for a couple hours, which is a welcome respite that will have to be repaid in some (often painful) way, or (2) I’m traveling for work someplace warm and/or there’s a late-hours lounge nearby.

I write this not to ask for your sympathy (I don’t deserve any, and I’m not complaining) but to share a few unintended consequences of my wintertime lull in cigar smoking. First, when you smoke less, you enjoy the cigars you do smoke more. The law of diminishing returns is absolutely at play here. If you smoke cigar after cigar after cigar, the next one won’t be nearly as enjoyable. Anyone who’s ever gone on a cigar rampage—or taken a leave of absence—would probably back this up.

Second, having fewer opportunities to smoke results in a renewed focus on deciding what to smoke. Time is more precious, and the cost of making a bad decision is higher. In the winter, I’m likelier to turn to old favorites and shun new experiences. Any new cigar that gets selected is often the result of a fair amount of review-reading—or, at least, much more research than would be required in the summer.

Finally, less time to smoke should mean more time for something else. In my case, the inability to smoke as often as I would like has not extinguished my passion for cigars. So I’ve been catching up on cigar-related reading (both mainstream publications and, yes, other websites), making some purchases, organizing my inventory, and keeping the humidors functioning properly (which is no small task this time of year).

I guess you could say I’ve come to terms with a seasonal approach to cigar enjoyment. That being said, where the f*#k is spring, and when will it get here?

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys