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History and Popularity of Cigars

Jan 21, 2008
Who smoked the first cigar? We'll never know, of course, but archeological finds suggest an early date indeed. A ceramic vessel unearthed at Uaxactun, Guatemala, dating from as early as the tenth century, depicts a cigar-smoking man, which suggests that indigenous Mesoamericans smoked cigars at least 500 years before Columbus.

We can say pretty confidently that it was this same Columbus who introduced smoking to Western Europe. On October 28, 1492, Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres, two sailors serving under the Spanish explorer, journeyed inland to what would eventually become known as Cuba. Here they witnessed a ritual in which natives inhaled the smoke from burning leaves through a tube made of other leaves (such as palm and plantain).

The leaves they called cohiba, and the tube they called tobacco. With a disregard for native preference that would later prove typical of European dealings with the New World's residents, Europeans came to refer to these interesting smokable leaves by a name actually given to the tube that held them. Our culture's multibillion-dollar tobacco industry is, in fact, misnamed.

At any rate, Columbus's sailors came to enjoy this ritual, and through them - along with various other missions of exploration and conquest, which resulted in Spanish control of Cuba by 1511 - it spread to Spain and Portugal, thence to the rest of Europe. (It's thought that our word nicotine comes from Jean Nicot, a French ambassador to Portugal who may have introduced the French to the habit.)

Sir Walter Raleigh's late-sixteenth-century journeys to the continent now named "America" were the vehicle by which smoking caught on in England. Commercial production of tobacco began in the American colonies soon after. Almost from the start, smoking aroused controversy. Though some experts believed tobacco had medicinal properties, others, such as King James I of England (the same King James who commissioned the Bible of that name), denounced smoking.

Throughout this period, pipe-smoking was the standard practice among Europeans. The Spanish began the production of cigars, as we know them, during the 18th century, using Cuban tobacco. (The Cuban-made cigar came later in the century, but it soon superseded the cigar industry of Cuba's parent country, as dedicated smokers realized that cigars travel better than tobacco.)

In 1762, General Israel Putnam of Connecticut, returning from a mission in Cuba, introduced cigars to the not-yet-United States (for which he would later fight as a member of the Revolutionary Army). During the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth-century, cigar manufacture spread north from Spain, first to France and Germany and finally to England in the 1820s.

Cigar smoking exploded in popularity in Europe during the 1850s, partly in response to the Crimean War-era availability of delicious Turkish tobacco, partly in response to the example of the future Edward VII, a lover of tobacco and leader of fashion. (No one will be surprised to learn that Edward's mother, Queen Victoria, hated smoking.) In the United States, popularity came a little later, during the Civil War.

But the same tobacco revolution that ensured cigars' popularity also insured their eventual near-obsolescence. Tobacco producers had begun developing cigarettes as a tiny, cheap alternative to cigars early in the 19th century, hoping to draw in less genteel consumers; by World War I, with the help of the cigarette-making machines developed in the 1880s, these ubiquitous knockoffs had superceded their parent product.

But, by the same token, cigarettes would never offer the taste and experience of a good, handmade cigar. As a result, these richer, more luxurious tobacco-delivery mechanisms exploded in popularity in the US during the 1990s, at precisely the moment when cigarette sales bottomed out in response to public disgust with "Big Tobacco" and fear of the lung cancer that had, by then, been linked to addictive smoking. Consumers recognized that cigars offered, and still offer, an opportunity to experience smoking as a celebration, an affirmation, rather than an addiction.
About the Author
CigarFox provides the finest cigars that include cigar brands like cohiba, gurkha and many more. Other cigar products include cigar humidors, cigar boxes, and cigar accessories like Zippo Lighters.
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