At age 98, the infamous cigar aficionado George Burns said, "If I had taken my doctor's advice and quit smoking when he advised me to, I wouldn't have lived to go to his funeral." While it's tempting for us to use Mr. Burns as the poster-child for the anti-anti-smoking movement which is gaining little ground against anti-smoking legislation in the United States, we would be hard-pressed to answer why the honor shouldn't go to Mark Twain, Peter Falk, Sigmund Freud ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar") or Rudy Giuliani. As more and more restaurants find themselves under regulation to prohibit smoking and many of the cigar bars from the last decade close their doors, it seems that today's cigar smoker is a bit lonely.
The cigar boom that swept the nation in the late 1990's has befallen the same fate as every other boom in history: it died and left a cynical, unhappy populace in its wake. In today's climate, it seems, not only is George Burn's doctor getting involved, but also neighbors, TV personalities and children.
However, those of us that have been in the cigar industry for years are not fretting. If you take a step back and observe the true nature of a boom, you realize it's simply a population getting excited about a new idea. The internet boom, the coffee boom, and the current wine boom are no exceptions. In a new age of information and technology where cultures and traditions all over the world are accessible with the click of a mouse, there's a lot of territory to discover. The culture of cigars had its turn, but it doesn't mean the boom is bust, it means the boom has allowed cigars to enter the cultural psyche of Americans and it will remain there even after the dust settles.
A perfect example of this phenomenon is the coffee bar. In the 1990's, a coffee bar was launched on every corner as the country realized Seattle not only had cool grunge but also iced coffee. There were actually two on every block if you include Starbucks. Low and behold, the hipsters got tired of coffee and moved onto cigar bars. Many of the nascent coffee shops were forced to close as the boom lost momentum, but I don't think anyone will argue that the coffee business is on its way out, it's just settled down. Today, coffee bars are part of our cultural psyche. They will continue to be frequented and enjoyed, if at a lower vibration than they were when they first hit the scene. The result is that today, it's easier to find better coffee.
The same is true for the cigar boom. As cigar culture entered the American mind, particularly the young American mind, there was a proliferation of cigar bars and internet businesses. Today, many of those have closed their doors, but the same great cigar bar that was there twenty years ago is most likely still around. Take a look at the police force of any major city. Detectives from New York to Denver surely didn't get the memo if cigar culture was dead. Indeed, business for your local cigar shop is probably better than ever. The boom is over, but cigars in America have entered a renaissance as a result. There are more high-quality, handmade cigars available at a cheaper price than ever before.
Of course, there is no telling how far the current climate of cigar taxation and smoking-bans will go. The momentum certainly hasn't waned, and the cigar industry will have to survive the onslaught before it can finally enjoy the new popularity it has discovered in the twenty-first century.
In the meantime, it's important for all of us to take a trip down to our local cigar shop and try something new. Only by continuing to invoke that feeling of spontaneity and discovery will cigar culture in the United States persist in growing and be recognized for its class, style and grace.