WRITTEN BY TERESA GRECO
Many people find a woman who knows how to smoke a cigar to be classy, intriguing, and very sexy. While cigars have been associated with men for centuries, there is a growing percentage of women who are also savouring the ritual of a cigar. Smoking a stogie brings to mind manly images — the velvet jacket, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy clubs, Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But what about the female icons of the cigar? Angelina Jolie, Demi Moore, Claudia Schiffer, and Heidi Klum have been known to smoke cigars. But are the reasons why a woman smokes a cigar the same as a man’s?
There are all levels of cigar-smoking women, from those who light up only on special occasions to those who puff on a regular basis. “A great cigar is an ultimate luxury. It makes me feel powerful, accomplished, but mainly, in my experience, it has been a symbol of celebration, triumph or reserved for a special occasion,” says Analucia Beltran, the founder and designer of Analucia Beltran Diamonds. As women are beginning to smoke cigars in greater numbers, many are coming out of the closet as long-time cigar smokers. They like the smell, taste, and ritual. It is about stimulating the senses just “like tasting a good wine: you smell it, you taste it, you look at it, you feel it, you can even say you hear it” (Anonymous). Cigar smoking is much the same thing. A genuine handmade cigar is made of at least three different tobacco varieties, and their final flavour is determined by a variety of factors, including where the tobacco was grown, the ageing process, and where the cigars were stored. Although the smell of cigars might be disliked at first, with practice, the depth and pleasure in smoking a cigar become apparent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2 percent of U.S. women say they smoke cigars compared to in the late 1980s when women comprised onetenth of one percent of the total cigar market in the United States. “Women are our next big market,” says Silvius-Gits, who sits on the board of directors of the Tobacconist’s Association of America. “We are seeing a tremendous surge of women smoking cigars. They’re educated, they know what they want, and I see more of them every day in my store.” Cigars are a relaxing ritual for these women, a meditative practice, and a sign of their status and success. “A great cigar to me is exquisite, an incomparable moment of pleasure, a magical pause in life. As a woman in business today, I choose to smoke a cigar on special occasions. For example, when I recently launched my own Diamond jewelry company, a long-time dream that took years in the making, I bought myself a special Cuban cigar for that. I personally love Romeo y Julieta,” expresses Beltran. To smoke a cigar, you need patience and time to relax and enjoy yourself — sitting there, savouring the flavour, and watching the smoke while you lose yourself in your feelings. “Like the day I got my own place after my divorce, I bought a great cigar and waited to smoke it on my new balcony overlooking the lake, as a symbol of reward and new beginnings in my life,” shares Beltran.
Cigar manufacturers are creating experiences specifically for women, selling flavours like honey and mocha. “To me, those are non-cigars,” asserts Barbara Munchel, a cigar shop owner in Indiana. “The cherry, the vanilla, the honeyflavoured cigars. That’s not cigar smoking. I drink my coffee black, and I want my cigars to be authentic.” Avanti, a premier cigar manufacturer based in Pennsylvania, sells its new cafe mocha Estilo cigar in three-pack pouches that “women like to slip into a purse or pocket,” says spokeswoman Elaine Ferri. Avanti is also launching a new line of decorative tips for their cigars, as well as other accessories and unique flavours. “Women absolutely are a growing market in the cigar industry, and they prefer flavoured and small cigars,” Ferri explains.
Smoking a cigar is also a social practice, where for men, they have had an important role in cementing business deals, celebrating achievements, and affirming friendships. For women, smoking a cigar can grab the attention of others and can be a great conversation starter for women socializing at events. Veronica Webb, a journalist and supermodel, put it this way: “It’s fascinating to see a woman with a cigar because it’s about staking a claim. And it often takes people off guard.” The United States has been slower to accept women cigar smokers, while in Europe and Latin America, women are seen smoking cigars more freely. Statistically, there are more women cigar smokers in Europe, with Denmark having the highest per-capita consumption. While seeing a woman with a cigar is not an entirely ‘natural’ thing for some Americans, there is an important and extremely time-honoured link between women and cigars in Latin culture. For women from countries like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, smoking cigars is common and deeply embedded within generations and spiritual practices.
Cigar smoking is a ritual that can bond women with each other and the men in their lives. “The first time I got married, I enjoyed a cigar for the first time in my life, while sailing on a cruise in the Caribbean,” recollects Beltran. When a man and woman share the love of cigars, it creates a unique intimacy between them. Munchel will see women hanging out with their male cigar-smoking counterparts in her cigar shop and looking just as natural puffing away. “I enjoy a cigar more when my wife picks it out. Going together is a sort of ritual we share,” a male customer confesses. While some men find a cigar-smoking woman titillating and sexy, for other men, it can be a way to break down gender barriers and welcome a woman into the group.
While the reasons for why women smoke cigars may appear different than it is for men at first glance, the pleasure, enjoyment, comradery, and intimacy created through the act of smoking a cigar seems to be universally appreciated.