Tobacconist University
Get Certified    |    Campus Store    |    R&D Lab    |    FAQs

Monday, October 29, 2007

1950s: Wine & Cigars Diverge

The Sommelier Society of America opened its doors in this country in 1954. This educational and certification institution has helped create the public perception that wine is a sophisticated and enlightened human pleasure which enhances one’s quality of life. And it is precisely that “Public Perception” which protects the wine industry from the type of hysterical crusading that is hurting the luxury tobacco industry today. In our society, luxury tobacco is perceived no differently than “Big Tobacco”. And this is our single greatest challenge! Because the reality of our industry is far more positive than the public perception.
It was also during the 1950s that Homogenized Tobacco Leaf (HTL) was developed and commercialized. This non-premium amalgam of tobacco leaf, chemicals, stems, and other additives allowed for the homogenization and mass commercialization of non-premium cigars. Today, more than 90% of cigars sold in this country are non-premium products and use some form of HTL. This has made the cigar industry much more similar to the cigarette industry than wine. From a purely capitalistic perspective, this business model makes perfect sense: cigar companies were looking for growth, economies of scale, mass distribution, and more profit, so they followed the lead of the cigarette industry. Sadly, we have spent the last 50 years paying the price for our industries’ similarities.
The last decade has truly been the most difficult and destructive time for the luxury tobacco industry, with one odd exception. Just before the spread of anti-smoking laws and the rise of draconian tobacco taxation, there was the release of Cigar Aficionado (CA) in the early 1990s. CA helped position the cigar industry in a completely new light with class and sophistication, as a luxurious pursuit and savoring of time. But this shift was more of a trend than a substantive change. And the reality of anti-tobacco crusading completely overshadows any of these positive facts. Any Tobacconist can tell you that the “boom” years were filled with “image smokers” who wanted to smoke cigars to look like the fancy and cool people on the pages of CA. But those customers are long gone now.
The effect of CA on our industry has been extraordinarily positive and dramatic, but it is far from being enough. To project culture and sophistication is not the same as having it, or earning it, or being accepted and embraced. So here we are…. still fighting S-CHIP, anti-smoking laws and absurd taxes.
Nobody can give you Freedom. Nobody can give you Equality or Justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”Malcom X
By “take it” I mean: We must EARN it. We must educate ourselves on our products, history, traditions, and enlighten those around us. To change our reality, we must first change ourselves and then the world around us. The fight for our survival is about educating our society and carving out a viable place for us to thrive and contribute. If you believe any of this, then you must get Certified to help us take back our dignity and preserve the luxury tobacco industry for generations to come. Certification is just the beginning of a Foundation of Credibility. Just like Sommeliers prance around as the darlings of our modern society, perhaps Tobacconists will one day get their deserved respect.

No comments :

Post a Comment