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Culture Club

Cigars continue growth increased regulation

Tobacco by any other name is still tobacco, right? Not true, but try telling that to lawmakers across the country. In February, the New York City Council passed a bill banning smoking in public places like parks, beaches and even Times Square. Travel a little farther east to Great Neck, Long Island, and you can face up to two weeks in jail for smoking on the sidewalk.

But these laws, according to Dick DiMeola, former COO of Consolidated Cigar Corp., forerunner of Altadis USA, are aimed at secondhand smoke from cigarettes, and cigar smokers are caught in the trap. “Cigars, unfortunately, fly on the coattails of cigarettes,” he said at Tobacco Plus Expo 2011 in Las Vegas in March. “They are both part of the tobacco family. If you can't smoke a cigarette you can't smoke a cigar.”

However, the guilt by association nature of the laws is unfair because of the difference between the two businesses, he contended. For one, the quantity of use is different. The regular cigar smoker smokes one to two cigars a month, with the average smoking three a week, DiMeola explained.

Also, the demographics are different. The average age of entry for a cigar smoker is 30, he said, and cigar smokers overall are 35 to 40 years. For the most part, women do not smoke cigars, DiMeola added. So while they are grouped together with cigarettes when it comes to smoking bans, the two cultures are quite different.

DiMeola began his lifelong stint in the cigar industry in 1956 when he went to work for Faber, Coe & Gregg in New York City. “I got into the cigar business by accident and stayed in it for 54 years because I feel in love with it — a the people, the culture.”

And what's not to love, he added. “We stick it in our mouth and suck on it. How much more personal can you get than that?” he asked.

While some trace the history of cigars back to Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World, cigars and tobacco had been used for centuries before that. The Mayans were using tobacco for hundreds of years before Columbus set foot on a boat. In fact, DiMeola explained, the Mayan word for smoking is Si'kar.

According to history books, Columbus landed in San Salvador and found the natives smoking tobacco. From there, he and his crew sailed to Cuba where one of his men took up smoking, bringing it back to Spain with him. Once home, however, the sailor was jailed for seven years for smoking, DiMeola explained. “History is repeating itself,” he quipped.

Today, in the face of increasing regulation, cigar lounges are popping up everywhere and doing great business. “Cigar smokers love their product and they are not going to stop,” he added. They seem to be in good company. Some fabulous people were cigar smokers, DiMeola said. The “club” counts among its members Winston Churchill, George Burns, Groucho Marx, Sigmund Freud, Rudyard Kipling, former President Bill Clinton and Mark Twain. In fact, DiMeola explained, Twain has often been quoted as saying, “If I cannot smoke in heaven I shall not go.” He may not be the only one who feels that way.

For comments, please contact Melissa Kress, Associate Editor, at [email protected].

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