A Cigar Story

It seems almost impossible to consider a world without tobacco; this humble weed is inextricably linked with humanity’s cultural, sociological, and economic evolutions; it has been used spiritually, medicinally, and recreationally by civilisations that precede our very conceptualisations of the term; whole cities in Europe (such as Glasgow and Bristol) grew rich by the importation of tobacco centuries after its discovery. The importance of this plant transcends the enjoyment which it affords to pipe and cigar smokers alike. Many historians share this view, citing the discovery of the cigar as a crucial moment in human history which allowed for the discovery of the new world. 

Cigars were enjoyed in Cuba by the Taino people centuries before Christopher Columbus’ visit. Tobacco was a sacred substance imbued with a powerful spirit, and was gifted to the Tainos by Bayamanaco (the guardian of the flint, god of fire and supreme creator), and empowered those who respected it with healing and divine abilities. During the ritual de cohiba the tribal witch doctor (referred to as the behike) used tobacco smoke as a communicative medium between the earth and the heavens: through which prayers would be carried from the place of ceremony to the spiritual realm in which the deities resided.

Upon arriving in the Bahamas in 1492, Columbus and his men were attacked by the local tribe. They landed in Cuba days later, seeking refuge and supplies. Fearing another hostile reception, only two men volunteered to make contact with the locals; as the tainos sought divine guidance through the ritual de cohiba to determine whether the men should be spared and treated as friends, or executed as enemies, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres became the first Europeans to witness this ritual and to smoke tobacco. Thankfully, the smoke signalled salvation, saving Columbus’ entire crew. It is for this reason that the cigar is considered by historians to be the key to the Americas.

Whilst Columbus and his men were instantly entranced by tobacco smoking, it would take time for it to become accepted in Europe during a time where religious instruction was influential in every sphere of life, including dealing with the perilous line dividing leisure and immorality. Upon catching De Jerez enjoying a cigar in their bedroom, his wife accused him of sorcery and satanic possession. Some historians say he was imprisoned for what remained of his life, whilst others maintain that he was burned alive; either way, the consequence was an immediate association between tobacco smoking and paganism. Ironically, a few short years following this event, churches were known to own their own tobacco fields, reserving the yields for consumption by the clergy. 

By the late 18th century it was acknowledged that rolled cigars survived the transatlantic journey from Cuba to Spain in far better condition than loose tobacco leaves. As such, a plethora of cigar factories were set up in Cuba, and by 1810, Cuban brands were registering for trademarks. 


Until 1920, all cigars were entirely hand rolled regardless of their country of origin. By the mid 1920s, cigarettes were experiencing a surge in popularity, even being included in the ration kits of G.I soldiers, leaving cigars in their wake. The economic strain of the Great Depression further ostracised cigars, and cigarettes became America’s preferred means of enjoying tobacco, whilst cigar sales flattened considerably.  Regardless, premium cigars were still being sold; primarily rolled in Tampa, they were made using Cuban tobaccos and demanded ridiculously cheap prices.

One of the biggest curve balls that the industry had to face was the 1962 Cuban Embargo, imposed by the United States in response to Fidel Castro’s regime. Many of the island’s best cigar makers were exiled, whilst the instant inaccessibility of Cuban leaf forced established factories throughout America to entirely rethink their blends. Tobaccos from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and the United States all made their way into premium cigars, spoiling smokers for choice and allowing cigar smokers to turn catastrophe into opportunity. This New World Cigar industry has grown in strength in the decades since, producing cigars such as the Fuente Fuente Opus X which have served to irreversibly revolutionise cigar making.

Despite this, there began a decline in cigar sales which would last approximately thirty years. The archetype of smoking aged, cigars found themselves on the peripheries of social enthusiasm, and many manufacturers were either abandoning the industry or begging their children not to enter it; that is, until Cigar Aficionado Magazine. The ripple effects of this publication were seismic, catalysing what has been referred to in the years which followed as the cigar boom. The strain placed on the cigar industry was unprecedented, tobacconists were unable to keep up with orders and manufacturers unable to keep tobacconists in supply; everyone with money was buying land in the tropics and starting their own cigar labels; farmers were stripping their fields of all other crops and solely growing tobacco (a harmful and soil-depleting practice which would later prove to be destructive).

Cigar smoking became accepted within bars, restaurants and cafes, with cigar themed dinners and events becoming prominent in people’s social calendars. All the while, manufacturers continued to struggle to keep up with demand, and backorder logs grew. Many saw this as a business opportunity, and many hopeful investors flew to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic to open factories with the hope of riding this unprecedented wave. A new celebrity adorned the cover of each month’s Cigar Aficionado release, cigar smoking was once again in vogue, and men and women of all ages were eager to try this mysterious and newly attractive activity. Buyers abandoned previous brand loyalties and purchased their cigars largely based on the ratings publications such as Cigar Aficionado bestowed on them: variety became the spice of life.

However, what comes up must go down. Manufacturers not only began to catch up with backlog demands, but were able to produce in surplus. Simultaneously, consumers who had been stung by the poor quality of many up-start companies returned to mainstay names, leaving millions of cigars in their wholesale inventories to be dumped. The two years following the end of the boom saw the demand of these new cigars plummet, and many companies closed their doors for good, whilst those that survived turned to innovation and experimentation with blends and vitolas to gain an edge on their competition. It was only in 2001, four years after the end of the boom, that cigar sales once again started to climb. This has continued at a far more sustainable level.

Smoking in general has experienced a decrease in popularity, as health concerns have bubbled to the surface of the public consciousness, a movement reflected in much anti-tobacco and anti-smoking legislation throughout the world. Despite this, there is still a niche, rich, and vibrant community of smokers who passionately pursue the enjoyment of this timeless pastime. Contemplation, relaxation, and serene moments of enjoyment cannot help but result from the fine aroma and taste of a premium cigar; simply put, it is one of life’s greatest pleasures.