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The Cigar Boom: What It Was (And Is)

Mar 28, 2008
As the 1990s dawned, few industries seemed deader than cigar sales and manufacture.

From its height in the 1850s - when Cuba alone exported 356.6 million cigars - the cigar had fallen into virtual moribundity. Its market had been conquered by cheap, ubiquitous cigarettes. Its image was tarnished in the United States by, among other things, the persistent (and not entirely unfounded) popular association between cigar smoking and the "fat cats" of the Gilded Age - a picture wedged into its place in the popular consciousness by the work of crusading editorial cartoonists.

By the late 1980s, the industry was flatlining, with an aging customer base and few new customers drifting in: the classic example of a product reaching what marketing experts call "old age." That's not to say "senility."

But in 1992 something changed. (Not a bad year for it - with voters decisively rejecting Ronald Reagan's vice president at the polls and heavy metal yielding to Nirvana, it was a year for change.) The number of imported cigars wafted gently upward during the fourth quarter of the year, yielding a four-percent increase over 1991. The following year, imports rose by ten percent.

The industry was elated. But no one was prepared for what came next - 12 percent growth in 1994, 33 percent growth in 1995, 36 percent first-quarter growth for 1996, shops unable to keep product on the shelves, backorders of 55 million units in 1996, retailers buying shopping-carts full of cigars from distributors and paying retail price just to keep their stores stocked. Women, for the first time, began smoking cigars in large numbers, and prices rose at a fast clip - the $2 premium cigar more or less disappeared over a three-year period. Cigar bars proliferated.

Cigar-friendly restaurants came into existence. What happened? One observer, Norman Sharp of the Cigar Association of America, told the New York Times in 1996 that the new prevalence of cigar bars goes back to a single Boston restaurant. "It started in the '80s, when the Ritz-Carlton in Boston hosted a cigar dinner."
In the same story, Sharp also gave credit to what he called "political correctness," the all-purpose rhetorical villain of the 1990s. "People are saying they're tired of being told what to do - or in this case, being told not to use tobacco - and turned to cigar smoking as a way of flipping the bird at well, somebody.

Other observers give some credit to Cigar Aficionado, launched in 1992, a quarterly glossy publication that improved cigars status in society. In Cigar Aficionado, alongside cigar reviews and industry news, you can also read up on new luxury goods, while enjoying interviews with prominent cigar smokers from Jack Nicholson to Whoopi Goldberg. As Runner's World did for the nascent jogging movement of the 1970s, Cigar Aficionado transformed thousands of isolated cigar lovers into an interest group, simply by addressing them as one.

For another explanation, consider the growth in coffee consumption during the 1990s - the years when Starbucks conquered America. The new prominence of this old, almost stodgy beverage (not unlike the cigar in its public image) could be, and was, traced to the explosion in average working hours during the decade, when a centuries-long trend toward shorter working weeks ground, in the US though not in Europe, to a halt. Bedroom communities grew, while deep social ties grew frayed. American white-collar workers desperately needed something, some small pleasure or indulgence to take the sting out of their epic workweeks. Why not cigars?
About the Author
CigarFox provides the finest cigars that include cigar brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, Gurkha, Macanudo, Rocky Patel, Romeo, Drew Estate, and many more. Other cigar products include cigar humidors, cigar boxes, and cigar accessories like Zippo Lighters.
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