A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco which is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the smoker's mouth. The English cigar comes from the Spanish cigarro, which in turn derives from the Mayan word for tobacco, siyar. Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and the United States.
Two of Columbus's crewmen during his 1492 journey, Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres, are said to have encountered tobacco for the first time on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, when natives presented them with dry leaves that spread a peculiar fragrance. Tobacco was widely difused among all of the islands of the Caribbean and therefore they again encountered it in Cuba, where Columbus and his men had settled.
Around 1592, the Spanish galleon San Clemente brought 50 kilograms (110 lb) of tobacco seed to the Philippines over the Acapulco-Manila trade route. The seed was then distributed among the Roman Catholic missions, where the clerics found excellent climates and soils for growing high-quality tobacco on Philippine soil.
In the 19th century, cigar smoking was common, while cigarettes were still comparatively rare. The cigar business was an important industry, and factories employed many people before mechanized manufacturing of cigars became practical. Many modern cigars, as a matter of prestige, are still rolled by hand: some boxes bear the phrase totalmente a mano (totally by hand) or hecho a mano (made by hand).
Tobacco leaves are harvested and aged using a process that combines use of heat and shade to reduce sugar and water content without causing the large leaves to rot. This first part of the process, called curing, takes between 25 and 45 days and varies substantially based upon climatic conditions as well as the construction of sheds or barns used to store harvested tobacco. The curing process is manipulated based upon the type of tobacco, and the desired color of the leaf. The second part of the process, called fermentation, is carried out under conditions designed to help the leaf die slowly. Temperature and humidity are controlled to ensure that the leaf continues to ferment, without rotting or disintegrating. This is where the flavor, burning, and aroma characteristics are primarily brought out in the leaf.
Once the leaves have aged properly, they are sorted for use as filler or wrapper based upon their appearance and overall quality. During this process, the leaves are continually moistened and handled carefully to ensure each leaf is best used according to its individual qualities. The leaf will continue to be baled, inspected, unbaled, reinspected, and baled again repeatedly as it continues its aging cycle. When the leaf has matured according to the manufacturer's specifications, it will be used in the production of a cigar.
Quality cigars are still hand-made. An experienced cigar-roller can produce hundreds of very good, nearly identical, cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist—especially the wrapper—and use specially designed crescent-shaped knives, called chavetas, to form the filler and wrapper leaves quickly and accurately. Once rolled, the cigars are stored in wooden forms as they dry, in which their uncapped ends are cut to a uniform size. From this stage, the cigar is a complete product that can be "laid down" and aged for decades if kept as close to 70 °F (21 °C), and 70% relative humidity, as the environment will allow. According to some experts, however, long-term cigar aging requires significantly lower storage temperatures (for example, 40 °F (4 °C) is recommended for a 50-year storage). The higher temperatures which are usually used in standard cigar storage will cause the cigar to deteriorate after several years, resulting in an eventual corruption of the cigar's flavor. Once cigars have been purchased, proper storage is usually accomplished by keeping the cigars in a specialized wooden box, or humidor, where conditions can be carefully controlled for long periods of time. Even if a cigar becomes dry, it can be successfully re-humidified so long as it has not been handled carelessly.
Some cigars, especially premium brands, use different varieties of tobacco for the filler and the wrapper. "Long filler cigars" are a far higher quality of cigar, using long leaves throughout. These cigars also use a third variety of tobacco leaf, a "binder", between the filler and the outer wrapper. This permits the makers to use more delicate and attractive leaves as a wrapper. These high-quality cigars almost always blend varieties of tobacco. Even Cuban long-filler cigars will combine tobaccos from different parts of the island to incorporate several different flavors.
In low-grade cigars, chopped up tobacco leaves are used for the filler, and long leaves or even a type of "paper" made from tobacco pulp is used for the wrapper which binds the cigar together.
Historically, a lector or reader was always employed to entertain the cigar factory workers. This practice became obsolete once audio books for portable music players became available, but it is still practiced in some Cuban factories. The name for the Montecristo cigar brand may have arisen from this practice. (See List of cigar brands.)
Cigars are marketed via advertisements, product placement in movies and other media, sporting events, cigar-friendly magazines such as Cigar Aficionado, and cigar dinners. Advertisements often include depictions of affluence, sexual imagery, and explicit or implied celebrity endorsement.
In the U.S., cigars are exempt from many of the marketing regulations that govern cigarettes. For example, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1970 exempted cigars from its advertising ban, and cigar ads, unlike cigarette ads, need not mention health risks. Cigars are taxed far less than cigarettes, so much so that in many U.S. states, a pack of little cigars costs less than half as much as a pack of cigarettes. It is illegal for minors to purchase cigars and other tobacco products in the U.S., but laws are unevenly enforced: a 2000 study found that three-quarters of Internet cigar marketing sites allowed minors to purchase cigars.
Nearly all modern cigar makers are members of long-established cigar families, or purport to be. The art and skill of hand-making premium cigars has been passed from generation to generation; families are often shown in many cigar advertisements and packaging.
In 1992, Cigar Aficionado created the "Cigar Hall of Fame" to recognize families in the cigar industry. To date, six individuals have been inducted into the Hall of Fame for their families' contributions to the cigar industry:
Perhaps the best-known cigar family in the world is the Arturo Fuente family. Now led by father and son Carlos Fuente, Sr. and Jr., the Fuente family has been rolling their Arturo Fuente and Montesino cigars since 1916. The release of the Fuente Fuente OpusX in 1995 heralded the first quality wrapper grown in the Dominican Republic. The oldest Dominican Republic cigar maker is the León family, who have been making their León Jimenes and La Aurora cigars on the island since 1905.
Not only are premium cigar-makers typically families, but so are those who grow the premium cigar tobacco. The Oliva family has been growing cigar tobacco since 1934 and their family's tobacco is found in nearly every major cigar brand sold on the US market. Some families, such as the well-known Padrons, have crossed over from tobacco growing to cigar making. While the Padron family has been growing tobacco since the 1850s, they began making cigars that bear their family's name in 1964. Like the Padrons, the Carlos Torano family first began growing tobacco in 1916 before they started rolling their own family's brands, which also bear the family name, in the 1990s.
Families are such an important part of the premium cigar industry that the term "cigar family" is a registered trademark of the Arturo Fuente and J.C. Newman families, used to distinguish and identify their families, premium cigar brands, and charitable foundation. Even the premium cigars made by the cigar industry's two corporate conglomerates, Altadis and Swedish Match, are overseen by members of two cigar families, Altadis' Benjamin Menendez and Swedish Match's Ernesto Perez-Carrillo.
Some manufacturers use an alternate designation:
A common misconception is that the darker the wrapper, the fuller the flavor. This is a poor indicator because flavor mainly comes from the filler. If anything, dark wrappers add a touch of sweetness, while light ones add a hint of dryness to the taste.
Fillers can be either long or short; long filler uses whole leaves and is of a better quality, while short filler, also called "mixed", uses chopped leaves, stems, and other bits. Recently some manufacturers have created what they term "medium filler" cigars. They use larger pieces of leaf than short filler without stems, and are of better quality than short filler cigars. Short filler cigars are easy to identify when smoked since they often burn hotter and tend to release bits of leaf into the smoker's mouth. Long filled cigars of high quality should burn evenly and consistently. Also available is a filler called "sandwich" (sometimes "Cuban sandwich") which is a cigar made by rolling short leaf inside long outer leaf. If a cigar is completely constructed (filler, binder and wrapper) of tobacco from only one country, it is referred to in the cigar industry as a "puro" which in Spanish means "pure".
Cigars are commonly categorized by the size and shape of the cigar, which together are known as the vitola.
The size of a cigar is measured by two dimensions: its ring gauge (its diameter in sixty-fourths of an inch) and its length (in inches). For example, most non-Cuban robustos have a ring gauge of approximately 50 and a length of approximately 5 inches. Robustos which are of Cuban origin always have a ring gauge of 50 and a length of 4 ⅞ inches.
See also Factory name.
Parejos are designated by the following terms:
These dimensions are, at best, idealised. Actual dimensions can vary considerably.
Irregularly shaped cigars are known as figurados and are sometimes considered of higher quality because they are more difficult to make.
Historically, especially during the 19th century, figurados were the most popular shapes; however, by the 1930s they had fallen out of fashion and all but disappeared. They have, however, recently received a small resurgence in popularity, and there are currently many brands (manufacturers) that produce figurados alongside the simpler parejos. The Cuban cigar brand Cuaba only has figurados in their range.
Figurados include the following:
Arturo Fuente, a large cigar manufacturer based in the Dominican Republic, has also manufactured figurados in exotic shapes ranging from chili peppers to baseball bats and American footballs. They are highly collectible and extremely expensive, when publicly available. In practice, the terms Torpedo and Pyramid are often used interchangeably, even among very knowledgeable cigar smokers. Min Ron Nee, the Hong Kong-based cigar expert whose work An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Post-Revolution Havana Cigars is considered to be the definitive work on cigars and cigar terms, defines Torpedo as "cigar slang". Nee thinks the majority is right (because slang is defined by majority usage) and torpedoes are pyramids by another name.
Cigar smoke, which is rarely inhaled, tastes of tobacco with nuances of other tastes. Many different things affect the scent of cigar smoke: tobacco type, quality of the cigar, added flavors, age and humidity, production method (handmade vs. machine-made) and more. A fine cigar can taste completely different from inhaled cigarette smoke. When smoke is inhaled, as is usual with cigarettes, the tobacco flavor is less noticeable than the sensation from the smoke. Some cigar enthusiasts use a vocabulary similar to that of wine-tasters to describe the overtones and undertones observed while smoking a cigar. Some even keep journals of cigars they've enjoyed, complete with personal ratings, description of flavors observed, sizes, brands, etc. Cigar tasting is in some respects similar to wine, cognac and whisky tasting.
Cigars manufactured in Cuba are considered by many to be the best, although many experts believe that the best offerings from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua rival those from Cuba. The Cuban reputation is thought to arise from the unique characteristics of the soil of Vuelta Abajo district in the Pinar del Río Province at the west of the island, where the microclimate allows high-quality tobacco to be grown.
Cuban cigars are rolled from tobacco leaves found throughout the country of Cuba. The filler, binder, and wrapper may come from different portions of the island. All cigar production in Cuba is controlled by the Cuban government, and each brand may be rolled in several different factories in Cuba. Cuban cigar rollers or "torcedores" are claimed to be the most skilled in the world. Torcedores are highly respected in Cuban society and culture and travel worldwide displaying their art of hand rolling cigars.
Habanos SA and Cubatabaco between them do all the work relating to Cuban cigars, including manufacture, quality control, promotion and distribution, and export. Cuba produces both handmade and machine made cigars. All boxes and labels are marked Hecho en Cuba (made in Cuba). Machine-bunched cigars finished by hand add Hecho a mano, while fully hand-made cigars say Totalmente a mano in script text. Some cigars show a TC or Tripa Corta, meaning that short filler and cuttings were used in the hand-rolling process.
The embargo prohibited US residents from legally purchasing Cuban-cigars on the market, and Cuba was deprived of its major customer for tobacco.
In the United States, authentic Cuban-made cigars are widely considered to be "the best smoking experience" of all cigars and are seen as "forbidden fruit" for Americans to purchase. Many former Cuban cigar manufacturers moved to other countries, and the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua continue to manufacture cigars. Some Cuban refugees make cigars in the U.S. and advertise them as "Cuban" cigars, using the argument that the cigars are made by Cubans.
It remains illegal for US residents to purchase or import Cuban cigars regardless of where they are in the world, although they are readily available across the northern border in Canada and the southern border in Mexico. While Cuban cigars are smuggled into the USA and sold at high prices, counterfeiting is rife; it has been said that 95% of Cuban cigars sold in the USA are counterfeit. Although Cuban cigars cannot legally be imported into the USA, the advent of the Internet has made it much easier for people in the United States to purchase cigars online from other countries, especially when shipped without bands.
Like other forms of tobacco use, cigar smoking poses a significant health risk. It is similar to cigarette smoking in nicotine addiction, periodontal health, and tooth loss. It causes many types of cancer, including oral, throat, and esophageal cancers (where the increased risk is similar to that of cigarettes), and lung and laryngeal cancers (where the increased risk is less); many of these cancers have extremely low cure rates. Risks are greater for those who smoke more cigars, smoke them longer, and inhale when they smoke. Cigar smoking also increases the risk of lung and heart diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Major U.S. print media portray cigars favorably; they generally frame cigar use as a lucrative business or a trendy habit, rather than as a health risk. Rich people are often caricatured as wearing top hats and tails and smoking cigars. In the United States a poor-quality cigar is sometimes called a "dog rocket". These cheap cigars are often converted into blunts rather than smoked directly. Cigars are often smoked to celebrate special occasion: the birth of a child, a graduation, a big sale. The expression "close but no cigar" comes from the practice of giving cigars as prizes in games involving good aim at fairgrounds.
King Edward VII enjoyed smoking cigarettes and cigars, much to the chagrin of his mother, Queen Victoria. After her death, legend has it, King Edward said to his male guests at the end of a dinner party, "Gentlemen, you may smoke." In his name, a line of inexpensive American cigars has long been named King Edward.
President Ulysses S. Grant of the USA and Dr. Sigmund Freud were both known for regularly smoking an entire box (25 cigars) a day. Challenged on the "phallic" shape of the cigar, Freud is supposed to have replied "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Winston Churchill was rarely seen without a cigar during his time as Britain's wartime leader; so much so that a large cigar size was named in his honour.
Fidel Castro was often seen smoking a cigar during the early days of the Cuban revolution, but gave up smoking in the early 1980s as part of a campaign to encourage the Cuban population to smoke less on health grounds.
Rudyard Kipling said in his poem The Betrothed, "A woman is only a woman: but a good cigar is a smoke."
Since apart from certain forms of heavily cured and strong snuff, the cigar is the most potent form of self-dosing with tobacco, it has long had associations of being a male rite of passage, as it may have had during the pre-Columbian era in America. Its fumes and rituals have in American and European cultures established a "men's hut"; in the 19th century, men would retire to the "smoking room" after dinner, to discuss serious issues.