Why Cigars?

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I wasn’t born smoking a cigar.

As someone working his way toward thirty, and someone who never smoked as a teenager, smoking a cigar wasn’t a habit I just transitioned into. Especially not with all the anti-smoking media we’re exposed to. It was very much a choice. Sure, I grew up around a few smokers. I never minded the smell of (some) cigarettes, and I’ve always liked the smell of unadulterated tobacco. But nobody I knew regularly smoked cigars (however, now that I do, I’ve come across quite a few people who I never would have guessed smoked cigars). So this isn’t an innate skill.

At some point in my late teens or early twenties, I became interested in cigars. Just a little, not a lot. Maybe it was the Starr report. I don’t remember the original seed that started it all. But the interest was there. Then, when I had more means to make it an affordable habit, I took an interest in them. Finally, one day I stopped by the local tobacconist and bought two cigars. I read about how to properly smoke a cigar (for instance, not inhaling the smoke).

They were so-so, but that may have been my inexperience.

Then I made an order for a few cigars. A five pack, to be exact. Robusto Cigars — not too long, not too short, and kind of fat. I bought a nice torch lighter (by Colibri) that was kind of cheap ($20ish, which is my go to price for stuff) and got my own cutter (under $2, it didn’t last!), and started the habit in earnest. I quickly realized it would be easier to order cigars in bigger bulk than I could smoke before they went bad. So I bought a humidor (supposedly it’ll hold 300, but in actuality I’d be happy if it’d hold half that — I’ve had around 120 in it and thought “this thing is getting too full! time to stop buying until I’ve smoked some!”). The Colibri crapped out and I bought a Xikar and received a Xikar cutter. I’m still using both.

So that’s my start. But it doesn’t explain the why.

I think some of it is the fire. I’ve heard smoking referred to as the closest we can get to fire without getting it on us (which is the first rule of fire — don’t get it on you). People have a weird relationship with fire because it’s so useful, but so destructive. A lot of what we have as a society comes from the discovery of fire. We’d still be in caves throwing sharp sticks at our food if we didn’t have fire.

Some of it, too, is that I just like tobacco. Pure tobacco — I don’t like to smoke cigars with anything else in them. I like the color of it, I like the smell, and I like the way it burns.

I also appreciate things that are well made, and in the cigar world, a lot of things are well made. My humidor is a Spanish cedar box that keeps the humidity at roughly 70% (which the cigars like) without too much effort on my part. I just have to fill the credos with some distilled water and propylene glycol and it does the rest. The cutter and lighter have to be well made to last, and both have stood up to some abuse.

And there’s nothing like a hand rolled cigar in terms of craftsmanship. To take the leaves of a plant and make a stick that will burn just right, smell and taste just right, and look just right? That’s a skill few people have.

Smoking a cigar is like a treat, and a respite from the day. I sit around outside, nursing a beer or some whisky (or, occasionally, a Martini). The computer and phone are put away. If anything is going on, I’m having a conversation or cooking on the grill (which is also simple but well made). Sometimes we’re playing pool. It’s a nice quiet time and the cigar adds something to it.

It gives my hand and mouth something to do while I think.

It’s also a self controlling habit. I don’t find cigars addictive, even though the nicotine level is insanely high compared to a cigarette. I’ve gone weeks without smoking since I started with no need to do it, no urge. I come to it because I want to, not need to. And the things aren’t cheap: even the cheapest is a dollar a stick, and most of the ones I like to smoke regularly are $3+. It’s also an investment in time: A good sized cigar takes an hour to smoke, or more.

When I clip the end off a cigar, I know I’m going to be making friends with it for at least an hour. That and the cost are pretty good reasons to make sure I choose wisely when I purchase it.

As I said above, I also like the taste of a good cigar. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t buy specially flavored cigars, just like I don’t by specially flavored spirits. If what I’m consuming doesn’t taste like something I want in my mouth, I’m not going to consume it or disguise it with other artifical flavorings. I try to do this with food, too*. It’s a good rule of thumb, I think.

Sure, there are risks and dangers and statistics that tell me I shouldn’t. I do a lot of things I “shouldn’t.” A man needs a vice or two.

In the end, I smoke because I want to. I don’t need it, I just want it, and why not?

* I am guilty of adding tobasco sauce to a lot of food, but that’s not disguising anything: That’s an accent, and tends to bring out the flavor a bit without covering it up. Which is an important distinction: Whisky adds to the flavor of a cigar, they compliment one another quite nicely, but unless you’re room-is-spinning drunk the flavor of both is still detectable.