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Commentary: Thoughts on Virginia’s New Increased Age to Purchase Tobacco

27 Feb 2019

My home state of Virginia recently became the latest to up the age at which adults are allowed to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. It joins California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon (along with the District of Columbia) in a trend that appears to be spreading.

A Slippery Slope

You may be old enough to vote or join the military (possibly even drafted into it), but that doesn’t mean you can choose to buy tobacco. If this seems odd to you, it should. Eighteen has always been the demarcation between children and adults; with adults getting to decide whether or not to use a legal product like tobacco, while we accept that children must be protected from having the same choices.

The justification appears to be that government is failing to effectively enforce the law that stops those under 18 from using tobacco, and it will be easier to stop minors from smoking if we also make it illegal for non-minors aged 18-20 from obtaining. That’s probably true, just as lowering the speed limit from 65 to 45 would make people less likely to drive over 65. But there is no limit to this justification.

What’s to stop the age from being raised again when the government cannot completely enforce the new 21-year-old age limit, and some 20-year-olds still manage to get their hands on cigarettes? The answer is nothing.

That’s a scary thought when you consider that many of the groups pushing this new restriction have as their ultimate goal a complete prohibition on tobacco products for everyone. After all, people older than 21 make bad decisions sometimes. Just ask Virginia Governor Ralph Northam who signed the bill into law and exercised some very bad judgement in his mid-twenties.

Being Anti-Tobacco Isn’t a Partisan Issue

One of the things that the Virginia bill demonstrates is that both Democrats and Republicans are willing to vote against cigar rights. Indeed, the bill couldn’t have become law without bi-partisan support.

In the Virginia state house, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, 46 Democrats and 21 Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Meanwhile, in the state senate, where Republicans also hold a two-member majority (21-19), all but eight Republicans voted for the bill. Then finally Democrat Governor Northam signed the bill into law.

Bootleggers and Baptists

You’d expect the anti-tobacco lobby to support raising the age for purchasing tobacco products, but it’s also worth noting another supporter of this legislation: the giant cigarette company Altria (maker of Marlboro). If this surprises you, it shouldn’t.

Altria also supported giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products including cigars, reportedly in part because the company thought that regulating the industry would help it fend off competition and maintain its large market share. It’s another example of an economic concept known as bootleggers and baptists, both of whom had their own reasons for supporting prohibition.

Patrick S

photo credit: Wikipedia

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVIII)

4 Feb 2019

What do Jim Mora, the Middle East, Mexico, and all 50 U.S. governors have in common? They’re all in this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor.

Excess Humidity?!?

I had to chuckle when I read my colleague’s piece last week about using Liberty cannisters to rid himself of excess humidity. Immediately, my internal monologue took on the voice of former Colts head coach Jim Mora talking about the playoffs. “Excess humidity? Don’t talk about—excess humidity?! You kidding me? Excess humidity?!” George may be warm and cozy down in Florida, but up here in Chicago I can assure you excess humidity is not a concern. Not in the winter months, anyhow. One day last week, the high—the high—in Chicago was -14. Including windchill, it was more like -40. Suffice to say, since cold air can hold less water vapor than warm air, my cigar storage problem is exactly the opposite of George’s right now. I have the anecdotal evidence to back it up. I use Boveda packs to maintain the relative humidity levels within my humidors at home. In the summer, I can go three months or more before needing to replace the packs; in the winter, I’m lucky if they last half as long. Perhaps you have the same experience. Is there any way for George to send his excess humidity up north?

Two New Regional Cubans Launch

Saint Luis Rey Herfing (5.5 x 54, $17) was introduced last week in Cyprus as a Regional Edition for the Middle East. Only 7,500 boxes of 10 have been made. Meanwhile, in Mexico, the Punch Duke becomes the first Regional Edition for the country that’s not an Edmundo Dantes. It has the same dimensions as the Saint Luis Rey Herfing (5.5 x 54), but retails for double the price—$35. Only 6,000 boxes have been made. The three preceding Regional Editions in Mexico were Edmundo Dantes El Conde 109 (2007), Edmundo Dantes Conde 54 (2011), and the Edmundo Dantes Conde Belicoso (2016). If you’re traveling abroad, keep your eyes open for these smokes as they’ll surely be very difficult to find in the U.S.

Dear Governors…

On Friday, Cigar Rights of America (CRA) sent a letter to each of the country’s 50 governors “alerting them to the state impact of federal regulation of premium handmade cigars.” In CRA’s own words: “Given the potential consequences of these regulations on production and consumption as well as the direct ability to shut down small businesses across the country, CRA felt compelled to alert the governors of the fiscal impact on state OTP tax collections and the potential for job losses and business closures in their states. The letter implores the governors to encourage their state congressional delegation to support legislative efforts to protect the industry.” You can see a complete copy of the letter here.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: What I Want to Smoke and Drink More of in 2019

3 Jan 2019

New Year’s resolutions are a annual tradition. Here are my cigar (and cigar-related) resolutions for 2019:

Smoke More Non-Nicaraguan Cigars

Not counting cigars I’m reviewing, I find there’s been less and less diversity in what I smoke. Mostly, I reach for Nicaraguan cigars. I plan on changing that this year and shaking things up more, which will especially mean more Dominican cigars and more Cubans.

Explore Calvados

The spirit I want to explore and learn more about this year is calvados. As I observed recently: “The apple (and sometimes pear) brandy from Normandy combines some of the best elements of cognac, wine, and whiskey. Terroir matters, oak barrel aging is important, and both large and small producers develop their own distinct styles.” Calvados can be hard to find, but I’m looking forward to tracking more down.

Drink More Cocktails

With the exception of margaritas, and the very occasional negroni, I rarely order or make cocktails. My thinking tends to go: If I’m drinking spirits, why not have a good one and take it neat? It’s not the worst philosophy, but this year when I’m at a place with a interesting cocktail list, I plan to take advantage.

Try More Coffee

I drink coffee daily, and I’m fairly serious about it (with or without a cigar). Every morning I freshly grind beans in my burr grinder and make myself a pour-over coffee. But nearly every morning I use the exact same coffee: Major Dickason’s Blend by Peet’s Coffee. It’s a solid, full-bodied coffee and always available at a reasonable price at my local grocery store. Nothing wrong with that. Still, it has been a while since I saw what else is out there. So trying out local roasters, online specialists, and more are on the agenda for 2019.

Got a cigar-related resolution of you own? Let us know.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Roll Out Your Lists

5 Dec 2018

To death and taxes as the certainties of life, I think it’s time to add the best-of list. And since we’re cigar smokers, it’s lists of those for which we’re getting ready as year’s end nears.

There are certainly enough lists to keep us busy. Magazines, blogs, podcasts, shops—seemingly almost everyone who lit a cigar compiles a list.

(We don’t do a best-of list at StogieGuys.com. We do look back over our year’s reviews and highlight the cigars we rated highly. Our annual retrospective will appear later this month.)

The 800-lb. gorilla of the tally trade is, of course, Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25. Landing at the number one spot immediately catapults a cigar to stardom, creates shortages, and can leave a long-term impact on the brand owner.

Inaugurated in 2004, Cigar Aficionado’s list was once a singular event when the print edition rolled off the presses. Now, it is a weeks-long reveal with online fanfare. Others, such as Cigar Journal, also go the online rollout route.

About as common as the lists themselves are complaints. This one doesn’t do this, that one does that, why don’t they consider this, why would they consider that. And on and on and on.

Let’s be honest. No one is going to put together a list of nearly anything without some disagreement. But for kvetchers, Cigar Aficionado certainly seems to be the top target.

A couple of the primary complaints are that they don’t limit the selection to the year’s new releases and that the judges lean too heavily in favor of stronger cigars. Then there is the allegation that they’re influenced in their reviews by advertising, a charge that, to my knowledge, has never been supported by any evidence.

Cigar Aficionado has become more open about its process. The magazine has been more transparent about the ranking procedures, even having executive editor David Savona appear on podcasts to talk about it.

Personally, I have no significant complaints about any of the lists. I look forward to them. I’m always curious to see what other smokers think. Best-of lists also introduce me to cigars with which I’m unfamiliar and frequently prompt me to try some I haven’t had.

How about you? Do you pay attention to the lists? Any lists you particularly value and seek out?

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVII)

12 Nov 2018

In this edition of our Random Thoughts from the Humidor series, I fear the immortal words of House Stark: “Winter is coming.”

Find Yourself a Winter Sanctuary

For those of us who live in the northern half of the U.S., winter can be a crummy time to be a cigar enthusiast. The cold, arid air makes humidor maintenance more difficult. And, with a lack of indoor smoking sanctuaries thanks to government-imposed bans, we’re often forced into the frosty outdoors if we want to enjoy a premium cigar. Back in 2011, when I still lived in a condo in the city, had no kids, and was the proud owner of a cigar-friendly den, getting through the winter wasn’t so tough. I had my space. Now, despite being out in the suburbs with more space, there’s no room for an indoor cigar sanctuary; I’ve got three kids (which means I also have precious little time), the youngest of which arrived a mere two weeks ago. I’m on the hunt for a warm cigar space for the winter. Perhaps I’ll try to find a way to get some heat out in the garage without sending the whole thing up in flames. Wish me luck. And hit me up if you have any ideas. (Also: Where are you, cigar lounges?)

Don’t Save Your Best for the Firepit

Here in Chicago, my backyard firepit simply won’t get the job done as a warm cigar sanctuary for the winter. It gets too damn cold, especially at night (typically, the only time I can smoke nowadays is when all three kids and the wife are asleep). The firepit is great on a chilly fall night; when it’s below freezing, however, it just doesn’t kick off enough heat to be comfortable for the requisite 90-120 min. for a cigar. And there’s another problem: The fire obviously emits a lot of smoke and aroma. I find this detracts from a fine cigar, which is why I typically don’t bust out my best when there’s a fire involved. And I certainly wouldn’t ever review a cigar around a fire.

Keep an Eye on Your Humidor(s)

Back indoors, where your cigars are stored, start to pay closer attention to the humidity level of your humidor(s). It’s harder to keep humidity up in the winter—including inside your home. If, like me, you use Boveda packs, check to see if they need to be swapped out (or, as some of you are wont to do, recharged). Boveda’s Smart Sensor is a tech-savvy way to ensure proper monitoring and piece of mind. If you rely on more traditional methods and hygrometers, ensure these notoriously finicky instruments of measurement are properly calibrated. November is a great month to perform the salt calibration test.

Give the Gift of Cigars

Winter is synonymous with the holidays. If you have a cigar enthusiast or two on your list, I have a few tips for you. First, only give a box if you’re sure the recipient loves that cigar and size. Some cigar enthusiasts are completely loyal to one brand or one specific blend. If this is the case, you can’t do wrong by buying a box he or she is sure to love. Second, keep in mind that samplers offer good variety, and good samplers also offer value. You might also consider cigar accessories, or giving the gift of cigar rights. More on this topic can be found here.

Stay warm out there!

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

Commentary: Random Thoughts from the Humidor (XXVI)

24 Sep 2018

In this edition of Random Thoughts from the Humidor, I ask for your input on future cigar reviews and lament house guests who don’t finish their cigars.

What Cigars Should I Write About?

I’m in a bit of a cigar funk these days. My stash is running lower than usual and, among the cigars that still reside in one of my five humidors, we’ve already written about pretty much all of them. So that begs the question: Should I buy a bunch of “new” cigars and focus on those (that’s pretty much what I have been doing since we founded this site in May 2006; I’m just falling behind lately)? Or should I start to revisit cigars we reviewed (in some cases) years ago to provide an update and an aging report? Perhaps the best strategy is a bit of both. But I figured I’d throw the question out to you, especially since the cigar blogger space is more cluttered than ever. What do you want to see reviewed?

Let Me Follow Up on That Question…

While you’re thinking on the subject, I’ve always wondered: Do you care about reviews of cigars that are no longer in production (I’ve got a ton of those on hand)? What about super-limited cigars, or exclusives? For example, take the cigars I receive each year as a member of Tatuaje’s Saints & Sinners club. The only way to get these cigars is to belong to the small, members-only club. Either you do, or you don’t. On one hand, I could see some people being interested in what’s out there, even if it’s unlikely they’ll ever get their hands on it. On the other, many people could consider the review a vain act of futility. What’s your take?

What A Cigar Review Isn’t

These words written by my colleague nearly a decade ago still ring true, and I think they’re appropriate to recall as we think about reviews: “These days there are no shortages of cigar reviews online. Seems everyone has an opinion and wants to share. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But before you read every cigar review out there and take each as gospel, let’s keep in mind what a review is… and, just as importantly, let’s keep in mind what a review isn’t. First off, a review can only be as good as the limited inputs that created it. That means whatever review you’re reading is first and foremost limited by two important factors: the reviewer, and the cigars sampled.” You can read the rest of this piece from 2010 here.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Chances are, if you visit my home, you’ll be offered a cigar. My guests are almost never as into cigars as I am, and that’s perfectly fine. I am happy to share nonetheless and, despite my relatively depleted stash, almost certainly have a good cigar for the individual and timeframe in question. This is all well and good. What irks me, however, is when a guest will request (and receive) a top-notch cigar and then proceed to not even smoke half of it. If your time is short, or if you want a smaller smoke, please tell me in advance so I can help you select the best fit for your situation. I feel like this should be common courtesy. Aside from this pet peeve, let me know if you’re in the vicinity of Oak Park, Illinois, and want to stop by for a smoke and/or a bourbon. My front porch is a wonderful place to relax, and cigars are best enjoyed in good company–whether I’m writing about them or not.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: The FDA Should Not Be in the Business of Regulating Premium Cigars

25 Jul 2018

FDA-cigars-large

The deadline for comments to the Food and Drug Administration about whether or not it should regulate handmade cigars are due today at midnight. You should submit your comments here.

If you are wondering what to tell the FDA, we gave some succinct suggestions here. Our comments the FDA were a little more in depth. We reprint them here in their entirety:

As Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, respectively, of the cigar news and review site StogieGuys.com, and as cigar consumers, we strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to completely rescind—or, at the very least, significantly curtail—all FDA regulations that apply to handmade cigars.

We have been reporting and writing about the premium cigar industry for over a decade (since StogieGuys.com’s founding in May 2006) That level of experience is not required to understand that, because of their natural and handmade production process, premium cigars will always be an inferior product, compared to other tobacco products, when it comes to effective nicotine delivery. That, combined with their high price point, makes premium handmade cigars particularly unattractive to underage tobacco users. In sum, the interests of public health and harm reduction are not served by regulating premium handmade cigars.

Our comments today reincorporate our comments to the FDA from August 27, 2014 in opposition to any regulations of handmade cigars. Our comments then made five key points, each of which continues to be a compelling reason to not regulate handmade cigars, especially when compared to existing efforts to enforce pre-2016 regulations on cigarettes and other tobacco products:

1. Cigars are fundamentally different from cigarettes and most other types of tobacco.

2. The FDA should not extend authority at all, and certainly not to handmade cigars, because it lacks the ability to do so [given current and future budget constraints].

3. If the FDA erroneously chooses to [continue to] regulate cigars, it should adopt a premium handmade cigar exemption that doesn’t rely on an arbitrary price, or flavor distinctions.

4. FDA regulations on premium cigars will cost jobs, both domestically and abroad. (Avoiding unemployment is almost universally considered good for your health. For example, experts have found (https://bit.ly/2A1X1lZ) that “people who are unemployed: have poorer physical and mental health overall, consult their [primary physician] more, are more likely to be admitted to hospital, [and] have higher death rates.”)

5. The FDA should focus on existing regulations, not expanding new regulations to handmade cigars.

Subjects one, two, four, and five demonstrate why the FDA’s mission of public health, with a special focus on the prevention of tobacco use by minors, should exempt handmade cigars so the focus can be on cigarettes and other tobacco products that fulfill the FDA’s above-stated goals.

We further emphasize the third key point made in our 2016 comments regarding a potential definition used for premium or handmade cigars: If the FDA decides to exempt “premium” cigars, it should do so based on the artisanal techniques used to produce handmade cigars. If, however, the FDA insists on using product cost to draw such a line, it should rely on the only line drawn by Congress which limited SCHIP tax rates to the first 40.26 cents of the wholesale price per cigar (i.e., cigars with a wholesale price above 40.26 cents should be exempt and classified as premium cigars).

Regulation of Handmade Cigars Won’t Advance the FDA’s Stated Goals

If the FDA is devoted to deploying its resources to pursue an agenda of harm reduction, this militates against regulating handmade cigars. The undeniable truth is virtually every human activity—including choices about diet, exercise, healthcare, social relationships, etc.—comes with some health risk. The FDA has recently moved towards a focus on risk-reduction, whereby regulatory activity is judged by its net effects, taking into account that regulation can and will steer individuals towards other, more or less risky, activities. Decreased regulation of handmade cigars logically follows from these stated goals.

Those who have read the National Institute of Health’s “Monograph 9: Cigars: Health Effects and Trends” and overviews of the health impacts of cigarette use will conclude that if the average cigarette smoker were suddenly transformed into the average handmade cigar smoker, public health would be far better off. Cigar smokers tend to smoke far less frequently and are therefore are far more capable of quitting, should they decide to.

The Regulation of Handmade Cigars Will Be Unwieldy

While handmade cigars are made in what is called a “cigar factory,” ultimately compared to most modern standardized manufacturing practices, the very nature of handmade cigars is far less precise than other more mass-market tobacco products. In fact, it is fair to say that the basic cigar manufacturing process has evolved little in decades, or perhaps even centuries.

Cigars are made with very broad specifications, which leaves significant discretion to each cigar roller to produce a final cigar that bares the key characteristics of the blend but is ultimately tweaked slightly to produce a cigar that will still combust and taste as expected by the consumer. The fact is, each cigar leaf is not identical in size, nor can each tobacco be produced uniformly because each frequently comes from a different farm (and part of that farm), a different growing season, and had been hand-processed by a different person.

In other words, no two handmade cigars are ever identical. This makes any attempt to regulate cigars through an FDA pre-approval process inherently unwieldy and unworkable.

The FDA’s Limited Resources Should Be Focused On More Consequential Tasks

Perhaps most critically, the FDA should exempt handmade cigars. Given existing fiscal realities, FDA regulation of handmade cigars would mean less regulatory resources elsewhere. If the FDA had infinite resources to regulate all tobacco products, the correct question to ask would be: Can regulation of handmade cigars create any net health benefit? But even if it could, that is not the reality the FDA faces today, or will ever face.

In a world of growing deficits, increasing financial obligations from entitlement spending, and little appetite for large tax increases, the FDA must accept it is increasingly being asked to do more with less, or at the very least more with the same resources, especially considering its existing large portfolio of non-tobacco regulatory mandates. In that light, the real question the FDA should ask as it considers whether to undertake the regulation of handmade cigars is: Will regulation of handmade cigars, to the detriment of other FDA regulatory activities, create a net gain in public health or risk reduction?

When judged against the potential impact of deploying FDA resources elsewhere, the considerable resources that would need to be devoted to any regulation of handmade cigars (which overwhelmingly produced in jurisdictions outside the United States) cannot be justified. Studies do not show that handmade cigars are used in any meaningful amounts by minors, and in fact even the previous FDA-cited justifications conflated handmade cigar use with use of non-handmade cigars, and also repeatedly conflated tobacco use by adults as old as 25 or even 29 with those of minors (see: https://bit.ly/2dIDpan), almost certainly because of the lack of evidence that studies show that actual minors are using handmade cigars. Whether the FDA chooses to focus on public health overall or tobacco use by minors, regulation of handmade cigars does not serve that goal when compared to using the same taxpayer dollars elsewhere.

Finally, while we believe current overwhelming evidence should cause the FDA to leave handmade cigars out of its tobacco regulation regime, such a decision would not preclude the FDA from, should new evidence be produced or documented use patterns change, revisiting the issue at later date. Barring an act of Congress specifically exempting handmade cigars (there has been, and continues to be, wide bipartisan support for such an exemption), the FDA will still retain such regulatory powers to be deployed later under the Tobacco Control Act.

When it comes to the many tasks given to the FDA by Congress, whether for tobacco regulations or other public health goals, regulating the small percentage of tobacco products that constitute handmade cigars at this time cannot advance the FDA’s larger goals of risk reduction and overall public health compared to deploying the FDA’s limited resources elsewhere. Therefore, we ask the FDA to eliminate its current regulations of handmade cigars.

Patrick A & Patrick S

photo credits: Stogie Guys