Cigar smoking is clouded by mystery and intrigue, by stereotype and speculation. Light up a cigar at a party and everyone who was a non smoker merely minutes ago is now asking you for a stick, or – God forbid – for a puff from yours. However, it is a polarising hobby, and whilst it can make you the most interesting person in a room, it can also lead to an involuntarily swift exit. Having been on both sides of this scenario and constantly questioned about my love for cigars, I often think to myself about why those of us who have discovered this pastime are so entranced by it: why do we smoke? Ironically, it is a question that I myself would ask cigar smokers at parties and functions, until I became one of them. 

I remember my first cigar vividly. Curiosity had bested me: I just couldn’t help it! It all seemed so ritualistic, so meditative and so natural; I had never seen anyone who was smoking a cigar seem frantic or stressed, but rather fully submerged in a state of contemplative calm and relaxation. It had never crossed my mind prior to partaking in this ritual myself that the seemingly simple act of smoking could catalyse such an intense reaction; naturally I wanted to learn more.

Tentatively, I reached out my hand and accepted a cigar, removed the cellophane ever so carefully, cut the cap and toasted the foot as I had been instructed, and proceeded to take my first puff. The memories of what followed are a little bit hazy, but I remember a distinct stillness and a consuming silence. I felt as though I was discovering an entirely different world and becoming reacquainted with an old friend at the same time. Those rituals which had seemed so foreign to me only moments ago, after a little bit of guidance from those around me, were being performed instinctively, allowing my mind to wander everywhere and nowhere. Needless to say, it felt amazing. 

This marked the entry to a long and winding rabbit hole into which I dove headfirst. Whilst I knew very little about the hobby in which I had partaken, I understood that it had opened my eyes to a medium of enjoyment which was entirely unique among other artisanal products: it was one steeped in a rich history, and which treaded the line between the careful observance of tradition and the relentless push for innovation and longevity with excitement and elegance. The more I smoked and spoke with other smokers, the more I learned. 

Zino Davidoff described smoking a cigar as more than just a series of mere actions and mannerisms. For him, engaging in the enjoyment of a cigar catalysed the recovery of long forgotten rhythms embedded within us, and the rediscovery and reestablishment of an integral communication with the self. Who better to put forward a philosophy of smoking than a man who dedicated his life to ensuring that cigars became synonymous with elegance, sophistication, meditation and personal identity. For Zino, the enjoyment of this medium was a dignified ceremony, a ritual during which, seeking solace, the cigar smoker would draw respectfully from the cigar, allowing the smoke to enrich their palate and senses, before releasing it along with all other burdens plaguing their mind. Much like for the Tainos, the oldest indigenous tribe in the Caribbean and the first known cigar smokers, it was for Zino a spiritual experience which transcended the visibly physical act of puffing smoke. 

Many of the greatest thinkers, authors, poets, politicians, musicians, playwrights and artists of our time have not merely taken pleasure in this indulgence; these little bundles of dried leaves, within which reside histories of civilisations past and present, have been credited as instrumental in the aforementioned’s successes by non other than themselves. Victor Hugo hailed tobacco as the medium through which his thoughts were converted into dreams, whilst Abraham Lincoln believed cigars to be integral in striking a personal balance, stating “it has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”

What does this snapshot into some of the most respected and prolific smokers tell us? That the question ‘why do we smoke’ is impossible to answer; everyone’s answer will be different, because the experience of smoking a cigar is visceral and personal. For many, cigars are poetic, and hold within them an array of metaphors which can be applied to our every day lives, providing lessons which will reveal themselves between gentle puffs and aromatic clouds. Some believe that they teach the importance of the present. The beauty of a cigar, and the enjoyment it provides, are sacrificial: presented to us in their perfect state, they must be cut, burned and ultimately reduced to ashes in order to serve their purpose. In the knowledge that their lives are finite, we enjoy each puff to its fullest. Sir Winston Churchill saw the inextricable link between cigars and falling in love: to paraphrase him, first we are attracted to the shape, we stay for the flavour, and must remember to never let the flame go out. 

I believe that a cigar affords us the opportunity to disconnect, and slow our clocks right down to the pace at which we feel comfortable, which is a rare luxury in today’s modern world. It allows us to be social, or to find ourselves totally alone and yet not feel a morsel of loneliness. A cigar is something which starts off as a curiosity, quickly becomes a hobby, and undoubtedly evolves into a passion which few will understand, but the camaraderie that is forged between those who do is undeniable. It is a reminder to take the time to enjoy and savour life’s luxuries, whilst simultaneously reminding us that enjoyment and luxury can be found in the simplest of things, even in a bunch of dry leaves. 

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