It was about 17 years ago and it seemed like men everywhere were indulging in cigars – on the golf course, in cigar lounges, at home with friends. But in Delafield Wisconsin, a woman by the name of Mary Lynn Kane was forging a different path – a cigar group for women. That’s right, it was the late 1990s and Mary Lynn was pulling it together. Mary’s group was known as the Cigar Babes and over the past decade and a half they have traveled to cigar manufactures, farms, and villages across Latin America. Their goal? Raise money and focus on the women in the cigar industry – those that need it most. To date they have raised an impress amount of money and have had a profound impact on the many women in the industry. They have held several fundraisers each year benefiting charities in Nicaragua, Honduras and Dominican. “Cigar Babes have a unique perspective of what is needed because they have actually visited these areas and see firsthand the necessity to continue their fundraising. Mary Lynn stated “Our fundraising work just kept on going, because we are continually moved by what we have seen. The passion and humility of the rollers, leaf sorters, farm workers…all of them…inspires us to continue our mission.”
I was fortunate to meet Mary Lynn in Fort Lauderdale Florida. She was and her group of ladies were in town as a guest of Gurkha cigars and the newly opened Mancave Cigar Lounge. The Cigar Babes are not only about fundraising though, they like cigars. Speaking to the ladies they all were enjoying their smokes and could talk with the best us about cigars and the lifestyle. Mary and her babes traveled down from Milwaukee to raise awareness for their mission. I have to admit, I did not know this event was going on. I was returning from an interview with Tres Lindas Cubanas Cigars in Miami and decided to stop over at my friends lounge in Fort Lauderdale where I was introduced to Mary Lynn and her group.
I was double surprised when I ran into Carlos Torano who now works for Gurkha and of course the Cigar Babes were there who I did not know much about until that evening. The cigar industry is wonderful, you meet some of the most amazing people and personalities and we all have a common interest in cigars. It does not matter if you are a manufacturer, a shop owner, or just an everyday person looking to relax with a cigar amongst friends and acquaintances.
I did not have a lot of time that evening to discuss a lot about the Cigar Babes, as I still had about 2 more hours of driving to get home, but I took the little time I had and got to know the Mary Lynn and her group. Mary Lynn owns a cigar shop (Lake Country Cigars) with her husband in Wisconsin, so she is quite knowledgeable about cigars, and the group of ladies are just as knowledgeable. I would stand them up with any aficionado. What I learned was beyond what I could have imagined as I was preparing for the May issue of Stogie Press. I knew I had some articles for the Ladies of the Leaf issue but over the next couple of hours, I was introduced to more than I ever dreamed.
Mary Lynn and her husband started the Cigar Babes concept 17 years ago and Mary Lynn has taken it even further and has established the International Women’s Cigar Society (IWCS) which promotes and works with the industry to help educate them about women and cigars. Wow, that is exactly what this issue of stogie press was all about! The IWCS surveyed women who already smoke cigars, not potential cigar smokers. The results are staggering if one is interested in improving and growing their business. Women’s buying patterns, preferences and desire to fit in are key. Why don’t women attend more events? What is the true value of catering to women in your lounge or store? How will the women customer increase your bottom line? What would a women’s or couples promotion do for your business?
Mary Lynn shared the results of a survey the IWCS conducted in 2014 and I have to say the results were enlightening to say the least. They even produced a compelling video about women cigar smokers which you can see here:
Now one thing I need to say is that the percentages drawn from the survey are based on a sample size of 500 and it should be noted that about 2% of the US adult female population smoke cigars. But even with that disclaimer, what the IWCS found was simply amazing and shows that for the most part women and men smoke cigars for the same reasons. They enjoy the flavor and the relaxation it provides. They enjoy the comradery amongst friends and associates. They also note that when you look at a house hold budget women usually control it and because they control the budget they also control the cigar budget in the household. Cigar manufacturers and shop owners should take that to heart and up their marketing to the female smoker.
The IWCS discovered that over 90% of those surveyed did not feel any discomfort smoking cigars in a predominantly male environment while 88% said they do not know how much they spend on cigar purchase. When it comes to advertising, 89% said they are turned off by ego driven cigar ads and 94% said they are not offended by scantily clad women in cigar ads. That’s a good thing, as men love those photos, just look to social media to get your fill of them.
As read the result I realized that women are a lot like men when it comes to cigars. The main difference is still the acceptance into the culture. Most women surveyed (79%) said they have been frowned on at least once for being a cigar smoker. I have to say, as a man I probably would have answered that question with a yes also, as I have been frowned on too especially by those that smoke cigarettes and don’t like the smell or heavy smoke my stogie puts off.
But even with the welcome hand to the Ladies of the Leaf, there is still much work to go, to reach equality. 9 out 10 women feel that they are not properly represented by the marketing of cigars and cigar accessories. The survey specifically pointed out that the “spiff” offered at events tends to be geared more to men than women even though women are the fastest growing segment of cigar smokers in the country.
One thing is still for sure, bigger is better according to the IWCS. Men may look at women as petite smokers, yet when you ask women, they are just like men, and will tell you that they prefer a larger ring gauge than a corona or petit corona. I will be interested how that changes over time, as the industry itself is swimming in large and super large ring gauges these days, but lately I have seen more panatellas starting to hit the market and show up on social media. I am sure that like all things, that which is popular will be popular regardless of sex.
Another important aspect of a women shopper is that they are loyal to brands and shops whether it is apparel, accessories, or in this case cigars. When it comes to cigar accessories, like lighters for instance, the survey found that women buy them because they like them not because they need them and over 80% of female smokers have more than 3 lighters with the favorite brand being Xikar.
In the final analysis, the women surveyed made it clear that they do not want cigars made just for women. The survey stated clearly:
These same women say they would attend more cigar events if they had more to offer women. Specifically, a designated women’s or couples event to connect with more women cigar smokers and more women’s products as give-aways.
So the next time you are in a shop and there is woman or group of women relaxing and enjoying some fine cigars, don’t be afraid to engage with them and treat them like an equal cigar aficionado. You will have a new friend to add to your list of cigar friends and that is always a good thing.
If you would like to join the IWCS or would like to know if the Cigar Babes or the ICWS can do anything for you in terms of donating to a cause you are touched by you can contact them through their Facebook page here.
If you would like to see more of the results from the survey you read it here: