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Cigars and cigarillos

One might wonder why a tobacco monograph would dedicate a chapter exclusively to cigars and cigarillos. There are quite a few good reasons for that, as 'black tobacco' in many ways differs from 'blond tobacco'1. There are differences in tobacco varieties, tobacco farming practices as well as in manufacturing, marketing and consumption.


Cigar smoking in the USA has been experiencing a spectacular boom since late 1992, causing a serious shortage of black tobaccos worldwide, and the end of this boom is yet not in sight. Cigar Aficionado, the magazine for cigar lovers that was launched in the USA in the autumn of 1992 and which had a major contribution to the renewal of interest in cigar smoking, explains in its autumn edition of 1996:


'Only four years ago, making or selling cigars may have been one of the least attractive businesses in the United States. Not only were cigar sales flat, but the future promised more of the same. The core customers base consisted primarily of older men. With few new customers venturing into cigar shops, the industry was literally fading away. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, premium cigar imports - the best indicator of cigar sales, as most handmade cigars are made outside of the United States - were stagnant, hovering around the 100 million mark. Then, in autumn of 1992, the industry began to change.


Imports into the USA topped 240 million cigars in 1996, and cigar sales have continued their remarkable performance. The premium cigar market more than doubled in the span of 3 years. Not bad for a business that was ready to be written off only 4 years previously. Today, there aren't nearly enough cigars to meet demand. Cigar Aficionado estimates that total industry back orders of premium cigars reached 55 million units in 1996, approximately double their estimated level at the end of 1995. In part, the back-order problem exists because the tobacco in cigars takes at least 18 to 24 months to go from seed to a finished cigar. Even manufacturers with the foresight to increase production in 1994 found that it required more than 2 years to bring in significantly larger supplies of tobacco; no one predicted the level of demand in 1996, so it will take at least several more years to reach an equilibrium.


The back-order situation is even more impressive when you consider the rising prices that have emerged in the cigar market since the dawn of the boom. In early issues of Cigar Aficionado it was common to see cigars retailing for under US$2. Today, such an inexpensive cigar is a rare find. The meat of the market today is up to USS5 per cigar, and it is not uncommon for a new brand to sell for USS10 per cigar or more.


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