News: Growing Evidence Suggests Tobacco May Play a ‘Protective’ Role Against Covid-19

27 Apr 2020

There is so much we don’t know about SARS-CoV-2, the Coronavirus currently threatening global health and the world economy. But perhaps one of the more surprising stories emerging from this massively disruptive virus is the growing evidence that tobacco use might be a factor in preventing transmission of Covid-19.

The cigar industry, like so many industries, has been massively impacted. Many factories have paused operations. In some states, cigar shops have been deemed “non-essential” and shut down, while elsewhere they continue to operate with new social distancing policies. Whether completely shut down or just limited, cigar shops are at serious risk of not surviving. Meanwhile, in response to the crisis, the federal government has delayed FDA filing and tobacco tax deadlines.

Early on as the virus was spreading, the assumption was smokers and former smokers (especially of cigarettes) were at higher risk of catching the virus, due to its transmission through the respiratory system. Anti-smoking activists were quick to cite the virus as a reason for more government policies limiting access of adults to tobacco. The World Health Organization made similar arguments.

Anti-smoking “zealot” Stanton A. Glantz (whose propensity to draw sweeping conclusions from limited statistics has been documented) even claimed, “the odds of disease progression (including to death) were 14 times higher among people with a history of smoking compared to those who did not smoke… the strongest risk factor among those examined.” That claim has since apparently been stealth edited out of the original article, but remains quoted in articles about it, including one specifically arguing Coronavirus meant it was time to quit cigars.

The since walked-back “14 times higher” claim (which was also pushed by the British Government) was actually based on a Chinese study with a sample size consisting of five total smokers (see above). This is a sample so small any serious scientist would never rely on it, certainly not to make such sweeping claims. Needless to say, those of us who have been following this issue for awhile aren’t surprised to find government agencies twisting statistics to push their anti-tobacco agenda.

Experts: Tobacco May Play a ‘Protective’ Role Against Covid-19

What is truly remarkable is the mounting evidence that smoking makes smokers (and, to a lesser extent, ex-smokers) specifically less susceptible to the virus. Contrary to the cherry-picked conclusions pushed by anti-tobacco activists, every week more evidence seems to emerge that bolsters the conclusion that tobacco protects smokers from Covid-19.

Author Christopher Snowdon (who has written books exposing the exaggerated claims of anti-smoking activists) recently summarized the ever-expanding evidence:

In [China] where 27 per cent of adults smoke, only 6.4 per cent of the Covid-19 cases were smokers. This was not a fluke finding. Awkwardly for the anti-smoking lobby, smokers have been strangely under-represented in all the studies for which smoking prevalence data is available. They made up just 1.4 per cent of the cases in Zhang et al, 6.7 per cent in Wan et al, 3.9 per cent in Mo et al, seven per cent in Huang et al, nine per cent in Dong et al, 10 per cent of cases in Yang et al, 1.9 per cent in Guan et al, six per cent in Zhou et al, and 6.4 per cent in Liu et al. In Shi et al, only 8.2 per cent of cases had any smoking history [current or former smokers]. 

Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos of the University of Patras in Greece noticed this phenomenon early on and put a preliminary study online in late March. It noted the ‘unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalised Covid-19 patients’, which ‘does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19, and might suggest a protective role’. 

A few days earlier, a group of doctors from the Royal Glamorgan Hospital had written to the British Medical Journal to point out that nicotine protects against the kind of acute inflammatory reactions seen in Covid patients and that ‘the simple use of nicotine patches should be urgently considered and discussed.’ Nobody paid much attention, but evidence supporting the smoking hypothesis continued to slip out. 

On 3 April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published data on thousands of American Covid-19 cases. Once again, the proportion of smokers was tiny – just 1.3 per cent [versus 14% who smoke]. Even ex-smokers were significantly under-represented (2.3 per cent).

The most comprehensive epidemiological study appeared a week later. Based on data from 4,103 Covid patients in New York City, a team of researchers found that a history of smoking was associated with a 29 per cent reduction in risk of being hospitalised with Covid-19 and, contrary to the claims of Public Health England, smokers were no more likely to become critically ill with the disease if they were admitted. The authors would have found an even sharper reduction in risk for current smokers if they had split them up from ex-smokers in their analysis, but even the findings as published were striking. 

This week, a group of French academics published their study of 343 Covid patients, of whom only 4.4 per cent were daily smokers. According to the authors, the study ‘strongly suggests that daily smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.’

Pause a second to consider some of those quotes from medical experts (emphasis added):

“[The study] strongly suggests that daily smokers have a very much lower probability of developing symptomatic or severe SARS-CoV-2 infection as compared to the general population.”

“[The] unusually low prevalence of current smoking was observed among hospitalised Covid-19 patients… does not support the argument that current smoking is a risk factor for hospitalisation for Covid-19, and might suggest a protective role.”

There are, of course, many unanswered questions about the reason for the apparent link between smoking and lower rates of symptomatic Covid-19. Still, it’s enough that French researchers have already initiated a study consisting of handing out nicotine patches to frontline medical workers and Coronavirus patients:

Nicotine could protect people from contracting the coronavirus, according to new research in France, where further trials are planned to test whether the substance could be used to prevent or treat the deadly illness. The findings come after researchers at a top Paris hospital examined 343 Coronavirus patients along with 139 people infected with the illness with milder symptoms.

They found that a low number of them smoked, compared to smoking rates of around 35 percent in France’s general population. “Among these patients, only five percent were smokers,” said Zahir Amoura, the study’s co-author and a professor of internal medicine.

The research echoed similar findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month that suggested that 12.6 percent of 1,000 people infected in China were smokers. That was a much lower figure than the number of regular smokers in China’s general population, about 26 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The theory is that nicotine could adhere to cell receptors, therefore blocking the virus from entering cells and spreading in the body, according to renown neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux from France’s Pasteur Institut, who also co-authored the study.

To be clear, we still know very little about Covid-19, which is part of the reason it remains such a serious threat. And as we scramble to treat it and prevent it, we know even less about the long-term impact of the deadly virus. (Certainly no medical experts are currently recommending people take up smoking to prevent Coronavirus.)

Among other considerations while digesting this data is that all tobacco use isn’t the same. Cigarettes are normally inhaled into the lungs, while cigars are not when used as intended. Any study of smokers or former smokers is statistically going to overwhelmingly be of cigarette smokers, not those who smoke the handmade cigars that are the longstanding focus at this website. And, of course, there are other risks associated with smoking (to differing degrees for different types of smokers), just as there are risks with any activity.

None of which diminishes the fact that it looks more and more likely that tobacco may be part of the solution, not part of the problem, when it comes to Coronavirus. In fact, one major tobacco company is already claiming to have found a tobacco-based breakthrough in the production of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The fact that the statistics are glaring enough that researchers are not only acknowledging smoking’s apparent preventative impact but are looking to nicotine to develop both preventative and treatment options, suggests this is not some random statistical anomaly.

Patrick S

photo credit: Phil Kerpen/CMJ

Cigar Review: CroMagnon EMH Black Irish

17 Apr 2020

In 2017, Skip Martin’s RoMa Craft Tobac released a limited edition offshoot of its popular CroMagnon EMH (“Early Modern Human”) cigar called Black Irish. The twist (pun intended) is a thin barber pole of Ecuadorian Connecticut Candela included in the regular EMH recipe. It’s a strategy that makes for a striking cigar—and one that’s highly sought-after among the dedicated RoMa fan base.

In an exchange with Danny Vazquez, RoMa’s sales director for North America, I learned there were about 60 boxes made in that inaugural year. In 2018 the release grew to 100 boxes. And while there were none made in 2019, 2020 production is about 200 boxes. While that’s double the number from 2018, “this limited edition is being released slower because of COVID restrictions, but after it’s done they are gone for the year,” says Vazquez.

Black Irish has the same dimensions as the original EMH (5 x 56) and, other than the Candela stripe, is the same recipe. The wrapper is Connecticut Broadleaf, the binder is Cameroon, and the filler is comprised of three different tobaccos from Nicaragua: Estelí, Condega, and a small farm on the Honduran border. “This third leaf, a Ligero, brings a strong, smoky, savory flavor to the blend,” read a description on the old RoMa website. “When combined with the mildly sweet characteristics of the Broadleaf Maduro wrapper, the exotic bite of the Cameroon binder, and the clean finish of its Viso and Seco companions, the blend delivers the precise, deep, rich tobacco flavor we wanted to present…”

Speaking of presentation, Black Irish makes quite the first impression. The thin Candela stripe appears to be applied directly over the diagonal line that I’d typically refer to as the cigar’s “seams.” This strip of green leaf is not completely uniform—it’s slightly thicker in some spots, thinner in others—but the overall effect, especially at the cap, is one of impressive attention to detail. The cigar is adorned by the familiar CroMagnon band of charcoal over cream, with black raised lettering that’s nearly illegible.

The thick robusto is firm to the touch. Pre-light notes include damp hay, sawdust, and licorice. The cold draw is smooth to moderate.

As with the regular CroMagnon EMH, the profile is dark, chalky, and full-bodied from the get-go. Not surprisingly, there are also sweet grassy notes on the background. But given the Candela placement versus the burn line, these grassy notes come and go, never taking center stage—perfect for the cigar enthusiast who’s just looking for a hint of something different.

After the first inch, the body settles a bit. But while the profile is slightly mellower, it never ventures out of the full-bodied spectrum. That’s about where the Black Irish stays until the finale. All the while, the burn line is OK (though, to its credit, it never requires any touch-ups). The white ash holds impeccably well. And the smoke volume is as generous as it is aromatic.

The MSRP is $288 for a box of 24, or $12 for a single. If you come across it, I’d absolutely recommend picking some up—especially if you’re in the mood for something unique and different. In my book, the CroMagnon EMH Black Irish is worthy of a very admirable rating of four stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Tip: Five Green Cigars for St. Patrick’s Day

17 Mar 2020

I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of green-colored candela cigars. For the most part, I smoke them for the same reason I drink green beer: Because it’s fun once a year. That’s why, even in light of events that mean not many of us are enjoying big St. Patrick’s Day parties, I’m updating our list of St. Patrick’s Day smokes.

It’s not that candela cigars are bad. It’s just that I’ve yet to find a candela that’s better than the same blend with a traditional wrapper (and the cigars below are no exception). That’s probably why candela cigars make up a fraction of one percent of the premium cigar market, and a proportional percentage of my cigar purchases.

And yet it wasn’t always that way. Green candela wrappers were once very popular with American cigar smokers. So much so that candela wrapper leafs—which go through a special quick and hot fermentation process that locks in the green color—were once known as “American Market Selection,” as opposed to more traditional brown “English Market Selection” wrappers.

If you’re thinking about trying a candela, St. Patrick’s Day is as good a time to take the plunge. To that end, here’s a quick rundown of some of the green cigars available:

Black Market Filthy Hooligan by Alec Bradley — First released last year, it’s back with a wrapper that’s a year older. It features the same blend as the regular Black Market (Panamanian and Honduran filler with a Sumatra binder) coupled with a candela wrapper. If you like the regular Black Market cigar, this is your best bet.

Illusione Candela — Illusione makes it’s original blend (Nicaraguan binder and filler) with candela in a few sizes. Back in 2011 when it first came out, we found the 88 size to be a pleasant smoke with tea and plenty of sweet flavors, and lacking the bitterness that sometimes characterizes candela cigars.

Viaje WLP St. Patrick’s Day — I smoked a few of the 2012 edition, which features the brightest candela wrapper I’ve ever seen, and found that it equaled the Illusione as my favorite candela. It also has the brightest green wrapper of the bunch.

Don Tomás Candela — My colleague reviewed this candela with some skepticism when the company claimed it was the result of three bales of candela wrappers that had been “lost” for 18 years. Ultimately, though, he found it to be a “respectable” smoke with enjoyable flavors, even if it wasn’t destined to be a regular in his rotation.

Fuente 8-5-8 Candela — Fuente’s regular line is known for smooth, mild flavors produced by Dominican binder and filler tobaccos. I smoked one of these with a candela wrapper a few years back and recall just that: a mild, balanced smoke with a hint of classic grassy candela flavors.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Punch Chop Suey

27 Feb 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Last year Punch released the Rothchild-sized Egg Roll. This month, in celebration of the Year of the Rat, General Cigar launched Chop Suey, a lancero (7 x 37) with a shaggy foot that sports an Ecuadoran Sumatra wrapper around Nicaraguan and Dominican tobaccos. It retails for the affordable price of $5.49 and is available in 25-count “takeout-style” boxes (3,650 were made, for a total run of 91,250 cigars). Construction is solid, a testament to the work at the General Cigar Dominicana factory in Santiago. The flavor is leathery and fairly complex for a cigar in this price range. Notes include dry oak, melon, white pepper, and a gentle cedar spice. The aftertaste is characterized by a soft cayenne heat. Join me in celebrating Punch’s decision to introduce a limited edition lancero that won’t break the bank; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick A

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: RoMa Craft CroMagnon EMH “Don Bosco” Limited Edition

25 Feb 2020

A couple times each week we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

The limited edition CroMagnon EMH “Don Bosco” is made for the Northern Virginia-based Old Virginia Tobacco Co. The cigar features a barber poll dual wrapper with Ecuadorian Connecticut candela and U.S.-grown Connecticut Broadleaf, which surrounds the standard CroMagnon blend (Cameroon binder and Nicaraguan filler). The large robusto-shaped EMH features full-bodied flavors of rich earth and roast nuts with black and green peppercorn spice. The $10 cigar is well-constructed with an open draw and even burn. It’s strongly recommended if you can find one.

Verdict = Buy.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: Coming to Terms with Winter

17 Feb 2020

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

Cigar Spirits: Rhum J.M. V.S.O.P.

10 Feb 2020

Rum is available in a wide variety of styles. The lack of strict rules (like those of bourbon, rye, single malt, etc…) make rum a Wild West, for both better and worse. Pure Bahamian rums, funky Jamaican rums, sugar-added dark rums, distilled in pot stills or column stills or both, spiced rums, aged in the tropics or Europe… they’re all rum, as long as they are distilled from one form or another of sugar.

Rhum agricole is the style associated with French Caribbean islands. It is distilled from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, rather than the more frequently used molasses. Rhum J.M. is made in Martinique, and the V.S.O.P. offering is “created by aging rhum 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finishing the rhum an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak barrels and finally reduced to 43% ABV with pure volcanic spring water from Habitation Bellevue.”

The $50 bottle (750 ml.) features a spirit that is light amber in color with a nose of fresh popcorn, red berries, and baking spices. Flavors include butterscotch, fresh sugar cane, custard, rubber, and banana.

It has a notably velvety mouthfeel and excellent balance. The finish is long and rich with nougat and candied apple sweetness.

I suppose you could use it in cocktail (I’m sure it would be excellent in a daiquiri) but, honestly, that would be a waste of a spirit that is best enjoyed neat. It’s a fine example of aged rhum agricole, worth seeking out (it can be a little tricky to find) for all fans of aged rum, especially for those looking to go beyond the molasses-derived offerings that usually make up the higher end of most run bars’ offerings.

Pair it with a balanced medium-bodied cigar. Suggested pairings include Cabaiguan, Davidoff Colorado Claro, El Güegüense, and the Cuban Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys