The time is the late 20th century and the cigar industry got a shot in the arm from Marvin Shanken and his new glitzy publication Cigar Aficionado. The boom had started and cigars were flowing off the shelves of every shop around the country. Prior to the 1990s cigar production was stable and consistent. It was predictable. Companies were able to plan for the marketplace. Back in those days the market was somewhere near 100 Million cigars and there were far less premium brands and blends available for the cigar lover although we didn’t know much different and accepted the norm. According to Cigar industry veteran Lew Rothman
Because there was only a finite number of potential customers and a fairly predictable demand for premium cigars, the quantity of tobacco planted to supply that demand, and the price for those wrappers, binders, and filler leaves, remained very constant throughout the 1980s and into the ’90s. Basically, there were no new farmers, brokers, or factories for the product, and it was ‘the same old, same old’ for over a decade.
Enter Marvin and Cigar Aficionado in 1992 and things started to change. Cigar smoking became more glamorous. Celebrities were featured on the covers of the magazine and cigar production and import numbers started to rise. It was a boom for the industry. The industry saw double digit % increases through the 1990s. In fact, the 1996 production numbers were more than double that of the early 90s, coming in at 293 million cigars!
While this was good for the cigar industry they did struggle with the growth and keeping up with the orders. They started to use inferior tobacco in many of their products including priming that were not normally targeted for the cigar market. New brands were damaged the most and many failed as experienced smokers shied away from new brands and stuck with established names like Macanudo, Punch, La Finca, Romeo y Julieta, and Hoyo de Monterrey, Ashton, Don Tomas and Fuente.
As 1997 came, the industry was in a free fall. The shelves were now over stocked, but the demand declined as the cigar “fad” started to die off. The new manufactures that survived the crash, changed with the times, offering larger ring sizes and additional vitolas to their lineup. As 2001 approached, the industry started to rebound but in a more predictable way. Growth was at a more stable 6% or so and now there is roughly 300 million cigars imported or made in the US.
During the boom and bust, cigar lovers like me enjoyed what was available. We had less choice than we do today but still enjoyed a good stick with our friends. We didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to discuss our latest smoke or new find, we relied on the local brick and mortar shop to have that discussion. The local tobacconist introduced us to a new blend or perhaps they carried the one we found out about reading Cigar Aficionado.
Times have changed; we now have active social media groups, blogs, and more print media that share thoughts on the latest flavors, pairings, and adventures in cigar enjoyment. We share selfies of us smoking our favorite cigar of the day. We trade and barter cigars with each other and even “bomb” each other to share the love. In 2014 there were over 1275 new blends that hit the market, offering everyone from the newbie to the most experienced aficionado a wide range of smoking choices.
The cigar business is strong in the 21st century, but it is about to fight the battle of its life as the FDA releases it upcoming regulations on the industry. We can only hope that it will not destroy, what we as manufactures, consumers, and small business owners have spent so long to build up.