From Academic Kids

This page is about the tobacco product; for other meanings of Cigar, see Cigar (disambiguation).
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Corona cigar

A cigar is a tightly rolled bundle of tobacco leaves that have already been dried and fermented, which is lit for the purpose of inhaling (or merely drawing into the mouth rather than into the lungs) its smoke (see tobacco smoking). The word "cigar" is from the Spanish word cigarro, which is possibly derived from the Maya language word sikar meaning tobacco. The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, suggests that it is from cigarra, the Spanish word for cicada, due to its shape (specifically of what is now called the perfecto). Some kinds were called puro cigarro (pure cigar), and for this, in some languages the cigar is just known as puro.

Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities in such nations as Brazil, Cameroon, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua and the United States of America.

Cigars manufactured in Cuba are considered by many cigar smokers to be without peer, thanks both to the unique characteristics of the Vuelta Abajo region, in the Pinar del Rio province at the west of Cuba, where a microclimate allows for unequalled tobacco to be grown, and the skill of the master cigar-makers working at the local factories. At one time, this may have been unarguably true, but in the present day, even the most elite of cigar cognoscenti have admitted that the best of non-Cuban cigars have come up to the quality level of Havanas. Some believe this decrease in cigar quality is due to the number of master cigar-makers that fled Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power.

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U.S. Congresman Joseph Gurney Cannon, smoking a cigar, 1920.

History of the cigar

The cigar was smoked throughout the islands of the Caribbean Sea and in Mesoamerica for centuries before the Europeans discovered the Americas in the late 15th century.

In the 19th century cigar smoking was common while cigarettes were still comparatively rare. The cigar business was an important industry, factories employed many people before mechanized manufacturing of cigars became practical. To this day, however, the higher-quality cigars are still made by hand (some boxes bear the phrase "Hecho a Mano", or "Made by Hand", as proof).

The cigar became inextricably intertwined with political history on February 7, 1962, when American President John F. Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. The purpose was to punish the Cubans, but had the unintended consequence of punishing Americans who enjoyed smoking fine Cuban cigars. Interestingly, Kennedy supposedly ordered Pierre Salinger, then his press secretary, to obtain 1,000 Cuban cigars the night before issuing the executive order authorizing the embargo (according to Salinger's personal account (,2322,862,00.html) of the events). Cigars obtained prior to the embargo were not contraband, and became referred to as "Pre-Embargo Cubans". To this day, Americans have great difficulty obtaining and enjoying premium Cuban-grown cigars.

During the mid to late 1990's in America, numerous cultural phenomena caused the popularity of cigar smoking to skyrocket. Lavish dinner events, or "smokers", could be attended in virtually any metropolitan area of consequence across the country. Celebrities, radio and television talk-show hosts, politicians, blue-collar workers, and even a large number of women - a fact surprising to some observers, were drawn to the allure of the cigar. The sudden resurgence in cigar smoking created demand that was difficult to supply. Additionally, the significance of America's Cuban trade embargo – imposed some 30 years earlier, before many of the new aficionados were born - suddenly became very evident. Cigar retailers, a good number of them new establishments looking to capitalize on the craze, could name their price on virtually every type and brand of cigar. Some even refused to sell any one customer an entire box at a time, regardless of the fact that only a very few could afford to, as a courtesy to their other customers.

In the rush to meet demand, the quality of many premium cigars suffered for brief periods of time. Eventually, consumer demand so far outpaced supply that many of those who took it up had to cease the practice altogether. For many, this was mainly due to either lack of supply, or overinflated prices. For others, the newness of the fad had simply worn off. Today, cigar prices have descended to reasonable levels, and supply of the best brands is abundant for those who continue to enjoy cigar smoking – even in the face of public scrutiny and disapproval.

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cigar makers in Puerto Rico, 1942

Cigar manufacturing

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 climactic 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 and gracefully. Temperature and humidity must be 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 manufacturers specifications, it will be used in the production of a cigar.

The creation of a quality cigar is still performed by hand. An experienced cigar roller can produce hundreds of exceptional, nearly identical cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist - especially the wrapper, and use specially designed crescent shaped knives 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 un-capped ends are cut to a uniform size. From this stage, the cigar is a complete product that can, to the best of anyone's knowledge, be kept indefinitely - under the proper conditions. Cigars are known to have lasted for decades if kept as close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and 70% relative humidity, as the environment will allow. Once purchased, this 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 them 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 filling, 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 players became available, but is still practiced in some Cuban factories. In fact, it was because of one of these lectores' choice of reading material that one of the best known brands earned its name. At the H. Upmann factory in Havana, the lector had the custom of reading the works of Alexandre Dumas. So loved were Dumas' works by the workers, that they asked the factory owner to let them produce a cigar as homage. The new cigars were branded Montecristo, in reference to The Count of Monte Cristo, and the boxes that carried them bore the image of three swords, in reference to The Three Musketeers. The Montecristo brand continues to be one of the most popular in the world to this day. (See Cigar Brands).

Cigars and health

Cigar smokers typically do not inhale the smoke, instead puffing it into their mouths, not reaching their lungs, unlike cigarette smokers. Cigar smokers consequently have lower incidence of lung cancer and emphysema than cigarette smokers, but still higher than that of non-smokers.

Some people have mistakenly assumed that cigars therefore pose no health risk, but cigar smokers are statistically more likely to develop cancer of the mouth, tongue, or larynx than non smokers.

Types of cigars

There are many types of cigars, but each consists of three primary elements that produce its smoking and flavor characteristics. The first is the wrapper which gives the cigar its character. The second element is the filler. Long filler is of a better quality than short or "mixed" filler. The filler gives the cigar its strength, from light to full-bodied. The third element is its construction, or style.


The wrapper of cigars are broadly categorized by their color.

  • Candela - very light, slightly greenish (also called American Market Selection)
  • Claro - light tan or yellowish
  • Colorado Claro - light brown (also called English Market Selection)
  • Colorado - reddish brown
  • Maduro - dark brown to almost black (also called Spanish Market Selection)
  • Oscuro - black, often oily in appearance


There are three main types of filler. Rarely is just one used in a cigar blend. One type is Seco. Seco is the lightest in strength. Volado is medium strength. Ligero is the strongest filler leaf. This is because it has more oils in the leaf than any other type of filler. The larger the cigar is in diameter, the more filler leaves can be used. Large gauge cigars thus have to potential to be fuller in body and/or more compelex in flavor.


Cigars are commonly categorized by the size and shape of the cigar, which together are known as a vitola. The most common shape is the parejo, which has a cylindrical body and a round cap.

The parejos include the following vitolas (from shortest to longest):

Irregularly-shaped cigars are known as figurados and are sometimes considered of higher quality because they are more difficult to make. Figurados include the following:

  • Torpedo - Like a parejo except that the cap is pointed.
  • Pyramid - Has a broad foot and evenly narrows to a pointed cap.
  • Perfecto - Narrow at both ends and bulged in the middle.
  • Presidente/Diadema - shaped like a parejo but considered a figurado because of its enormous size and occasional closed foot akin to a perfecto.
  • Culebras - Three long, pointed cigars braided together.

Other types of cigars:

Ring gauges

In some parts of the world (especially America), cigars are measured with two dimensions - ring gauge (numerator of the widest diameter in 64ths of an inch), and length. For example, most Robusto cigars have a ring gauge of approximately 50, and a length of approximately 5 inches.

Cigar ring gauge guide

A cigar's ring gauge is the diameter of the cigar and is measured in 64ths of an inch.


Virtually all cigar aficionados enjoy the practice because of the rich and varied flavors one observes when smoking, although some eschew the connoiseurial qualities in favor of other factors. For those drawn by taste, each brand and type of cigar carries different qualities of taste. Generally, cigars with lighter colored wrappers are milder in flavor and have less of a smoky aftertaste. Darker wrappers are typically richer in flavor, although the specific flavors are not unique to any particular style or type of tobacco.

Unlike cigarettes, cigars taste very little of smoke, and usually very much of tobacco with overtones of other tastes. A fine cigar - especially ones of Cuban origin prior to 1990, can have virtually no taste of smoke whatsoever. The act of smoking a fine cigar can be likened to eating a fine meal that leaves your stomach empty.

Some of the more common flavors one observes while smoking a cigar include:

  • Leather
  • Spice
  • Cocoa / chocolate
  • Peat / moss / earth
  • Coffee
  • Nut

The most ardent enjoyers of cigar smoking will sometimes keep personal journals of cigars they've enjoyed, complete with personal ratings, description of flavors observed, sizes, brands, etc. The qualities and characteristics of cigar tasting are very similar to those of wine, Scotch, beer, and cognacs. Within a given specification, there are endless varieties. This dynamic is part of the appeal to which cigar smokers are continually drawn.

Cigars in culture

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Le Premier Cigarre, Les Beaux Jours de la Vie, by Honor Daumier.
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Cigars in culture, from a cigar box label at the Lightner Museum.

Cigars are presented as an accessory to indicate the rich man's stereotype. Cigars are also favoured by easy riders. Cigars are often smoked to celebrate good fortune, especially things like the conception of a child. Some buy and keep a cigar 'for luck' about a personal bet, and promise to smoke it after they succeed on their aim or any happy event. In case of failure the cigar is usually discarded since there is no celebration.

King Edward VII enjoyed smoking cigarettes and cigars, but his mother, Queen Victoria, did not like smoking. After her death, legend has it, King Edward said to his courtiers on their first official meeting, "Gentlemen, you may smoke". In his name, a line of cheap American cigars has long been named King Edward.

It is perhaps important for the cigar smoker to ritualize his habit and to smoke fine and expensive cigars, for the addictive element of cigaretters is also present in the cigar: nicotine. The smoker can minimize his risk of addiction, and resulting cancers, by treating the cigar as a special occasion, and as noted above logging his smokes. This comes closest the the Native American use of the tobacco plant.

The risk of addiction is lowered by today's anti-smoking forces which would not have credited the smells and the litter of a midcentury American railway "lounge" car, nor that of a home where the paterfamilias had his favorite Sunday afternoon cigar, and cigar smoking today returns to its ritual origins because of anti-smoking pressure.

Two men who died during the zenith of the cigar's popularity owing ultimately to nicotine addiction and the consequent oral cancer were Ulysses Grant of the US and Dr. Sigmund Freud.

Although Grant was able for the duration of the Civil War to stop drinking, he was most often seen with a cigar and after his Presidency, Grant contracted cancer. Not wishing to leave his wife Julia penniless, Grant decided to write and publish his memoirs while in great pain.

Freud likewise succumbed in the 1930s to a habit which he seems to have been reluctant to psychoanalyze. Being challenged on the "phallic" shape of the cigar, Freud replied "sometimes, a cigar is only a cigar".

Interestingly, two famous men with the name Marx were cigar smokers. Karl Marx smoked cigars in his cheap London dwellings not knowing how their smoke might affect his children, who he loved. Groucho Marx was also a heavy cigar smoker.

Famous quotes about the cigar include not only Freud's but also "a woman is only a woman: but a good cigar is a smoke" and "what this country needs is a good five cent cigar". The cigar was also a staple for vaudeville jokes and slapstick, from the overexcited new father who says "have a baby, my wife just had a cigar" to the exploding cigar which may have been a coded proletarian gesture of resistance to the cigar, which with the top hat and tails was the semiotic for "capitalism" in the early 20th century.

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 right 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 (as seen recently in James Cameron's film Titanic), men after dinner would retire to the "smoking room" to discuss "serious" issues.

In the 1990s, cigar smoking may have been a backlash to feminism despite the numerous women smokers. Cigar bars were where retrograde political opinions could be expressed and put on trial, as it were in hopes of a return to the 19th century, with the cigar smoker invited not to join the proletariat but instead the plutocracy.

See also


External links

  • Cigar Family ( - Fuente and Newman Cigar Family and Online Community
  • Club Humid'Or ( - Smokers' Home
  • Cigar Aficionado ( - Cigars from around the world
  • Speaking Cigar ( - Cigar-related terminology and definitions
  • Cigar smoker's FAQ (
  • Cigar Weekly (
  • Cigars and Health (

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