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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Natural Shade-Grown Tobacco

This photo depicts dark (cigar) tobacco being grown in a palm grove in Cuba around 1905.  It is an important historical document because it shows “Shade-Grown” tobacco could be grown before cheesecloth or other man-made techniques were employed.  Very interesting!  Now, let’s see if we can convince some cigar makers to re-create this natural and historic method for shading tobacco.

H.C. White Co. Publishers. A shaded tobacco field within a palm grove, Province of Havana, ca. 1905, 3 1/2" x 7" gelatin silver print stereograph. The Ramiro Fernandez Collection; I Was Cuba - Kevin Kwan.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stalk Priming

American Photo Services. Tobacco leaves drying, Havana Province, ca. 1920. From the Ramiro Fernandez Collection: I Was Cuba, Kevin Kwan.

For the better part of 2009 we have been researching and studying a very unique dark tobacco harvesting method known as Stalk Priming.  This is an exclusive presentation of an agricultural and processing method which has been hidden or lost to the contemporary world of cigar smokers.   We are calling this content “in development” because we would like to re-create these harvesting and processing conditions and ultimately taste the final product; that will take money, time, and more effort.  In addition, this is considered CMT Curriculum, or ‘advanced’ content which will eventually go into the testing process for Certified Master Tobacconists.

Regardless of all these details, none of the research and writing we do has any value if we do not share it, so here it is…  Please feel free to comment and share.

Thanks to Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia for sharing his time, experience, and wisdom during the development of this content.  The astute observer may have noticed that we included a definition of Stalk Priming in The Tobacconist Handbook and TU Glossary, but this is the first preview of the academic curriculum.

Friday, November 6, 2009

We Are Better Than "Them" Bigotry

“We are better than them” is a notion that anti-smokers and the anti-smoking movement hold close to their hearts and minds.  But they do not have a monopoly on that sentiment, as I just heard a cigar salesman tell me that “we are better than them” when referring to cigarette smokers.
We know that cigars and pipe smokers enjoy tobacco very differently from cigarette smokers and the products themselves are very different.  But, dependency and patterns of use does not make anyone better than another.
Are you better than me because you work out four days a week and I only work out three?  Are you better because you eat more vegetables?  Are you better because you are thinner?  better looking? have more hair? etc…..  The notion that one person is better than another for the pleasures they choose, their tastes, and/or preferences is absurd, divisive, and it is the reason all smokers are losing their rights.  The anti-smoking/nanny-state/pleasure-police movement capitalizes on the notion that ‘they know better’ and that ‘they are better’.  But, this is a fraud and it is the essence of their bigotry.  The only qualitative measure of a person should derive from how they treat other people.
Ultimately, we must all respect each others’ rights and freedoms in order preserve our own.  Tobacco users are not “dirty”, “filthy”, or “disgusting” people any more than non-smokers, fat, or ugly people are.  In fact, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and taste is subjective, so who are we to judge?
Tobacconists and tobacco lovers are clearly the besmirched underdog in this society and we are going to have to change the way we view the world in order to make significant progress.  We must change our perspective, become less divisive, build more coalitions, and teach others to respect our freedoms and choices as much as we respect theirs.  If every cigar lover, as 5% of the population, convinced 12 people to respect our freedoms, then we could have a chance at surviving the tyranny of the majority.

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Worst Freedom Is OK

As a retail tobacconist I have paid half a dozen floor taxes and tax increases this year alone.   The campaign against all smokers is in full effect around the globe while smoking bans (both indoor and outdoor), de-normalization, perpetual and unreasonable tax increases, continue to usurp our freedoms.  But the hallmark of 2009 is the prohibitions that have been put into place by the FDA (banning flavored cigarettes) and now NYC banning ALL flavored tobacco; again, under the intellectually bankrupt logic that these products are ‘attractive to children’ – even though it is illegal to sell these products to children.

Today Dr. Michael Siegel, a famous anti-smoking advocate, wrote in his blog “the anti-smoking movement is very much a religious-like one and that it is based largely on ideology rather than science.”  Now we should be able to see things clearly; smokerism and the relentless taxation is not based on science, but rather bigotry.  And smokers, along with other freedom loving people, have been saying for years that the health police/nanny state will come after soda pop, obese people, and alcohol soon enough.  Well, soon enough is already here!!!  Taxes and bans on fatty foods are becoming prevalent while European cities have started to ban happy hours!

Behavior and pleasure control has never been about health, because happiness cannot be measured in years or numbers.  As a society we must accept that cigarette smoking is the absolute worst personal freedom and then move on.  It’s OK; there will always be a WORST Freedom.  But, the key to living in free and democratic societies is to preserve freedoms, not constantly whittle away at them.  Today, smokers pay more than their fair share of the ’societal’ (health care) costs associated with smoking; they are not a burden to non-smokers.  So it must be time to leave them alone.  Otherwise, our government is just punishing people who they do not like and that is reprehensible.  At this point, it will be up to non-smokers to stand up and say “Enough Is Enough”.   Even the worst freedom is OK, now lets get on with our lives!
“You can only be free if I am free.”
- Clarence Darrow

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tobacco Prohibition 2.0: Banning Flavor

Today, the New York City city council voted 46 to 1 to ban/prohibit flavored tobacco products.  The ban does not include Menthol or Mint, like the FDA ‘Protect Your Family from Smokers’ bill, and it does not ban flavored pipe tobaccos - yet.

All of this is happening in the same city where the nanny-minded mayor changed the law so he could stay for a third term in office, banned indoor smoking, and is now trying to ban outdoor smoking in parks and beaches – because ‘children should not have to see smokers’.
Where are all of the infuriated people?  Where are Americans who value freedom? Individual Rights?  And not just the rights you use, but all individuals’ rights?

Within thirty minutes of this news breaking, I have witnessed emails, facebook, and twitter messages from industry members and not one of those messages had anything to do with the usurpation of our freedoms.  Topics did include: tonight’s featured bottle of wine to drink at home; something about farmville; a note about splurging on a ribeye steak because it’s ‘hump day’; a bejeweled score; what you are watching on TV or the internet; what you are smoking; what you are wearing for Halloween; what game you are watching tonight; who you are rooting for; and something about a golf tournament.

Sadly, many NYC tobacconists did not find out about the vote until the day before; so some of us are being rail-roaded and disenfranchised by the system.   But, the real problem is our own apathy and lethargy.  Where is the anger?  The vote was 46 to 1!

These prohibitions started with the FDA justifying a ban of cigarettes that have a ‘characterizing’ flavor that ‘can be attractive to children’.  Yet, this is the most bankrupt and illogical justification because IT IS ILLEGAL TO SELL TOBACCO TO CHILDREN.  So, that should be the focus – stop sales of tobacco to underage children!  It’s not rocket science; you don’t have to be a genius to figure it out.  The prohibition of products that are ‘attractive to children’ is the most insipid legislative trend I have ever seen in my lifetime; it is as bad as McCarthyism, Racism, anti-Semitism, and any other ‘ism’ which is based on an ideology of hatred and bigotry.

One hundred years ago men congregated in bars, pubs, and clubs to discuss matters of the day… at the time, most of them smoked.  Yet today, we are not allowed to congregate, smoke, and talk in the same place – except for the rare retail tobacconist.  And now the walls are crumbling around us….  The guiding principle behind the founding of America was ‘the individual pursuit of happiness’…. so it was.  What is the guiding principle behind America today?

Unfortunately, the path to freedom is wrought with challenges and sacrifice.  For starters, join the CRA, get Certified, and finally, get your head out of your arse and take half of the time you spend watching TV, sports, or shopping for crap, and start fighting for your freedoms.  Otherwise, all that is worth living for, the simple human pleasures, will be lost.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cigar Myths: Body = Strength

Body = Strength
Myth: The body and strength of a cigar are the same and/or related.
Truth: Body, in terms of flavor (taste+aroma) profile, does not necessarily correlate with the Strength of a cigar.  Strength refers to nicotine potency or the intensity of spice – two separate factors.  Body is a flavor descriptor which can refer to the depth, breadth, and richness of a tobacco (flavor).

So, a strong cigar can be medium bodied, while a full-bodied cigar can be mild or medium strength.  As an example, imagine that chicken has a mild body, while beef has a richer body, yet both can be spicy/strong, depending on how they are seasoned.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blunt Debate

One of the most recent and grotesque legislative threats to cigar smokers, our freedoms, and common sense is the Washington DC City Council’s efforts to ban the sale of single cigars; because they are considered ‘drug paraphanalia’.  This is a legislative trend we have seen in other places and despite its stupidity, I’m sure we will see it again.  So, we must address the problem with facts before it gets more ridiculous.

First, we must explain what a ‘blunt’ is, since most cigar smokers probably have no idea.   The Urban Dictionary defines a blunt as a “cigar hollowed out and filled with marijuana.”  The term derives from the short-filler Phillie Blunt brand which was originally used to create blunts.  The term blunt originated in the 1980s and continued to be a popular inner-city technique for smoking marijuana throughout the 1990s.   Our research indicates it has faded in popularity over the last ten years.

It is important to note that blunts are made from short-filler, cheap cigars, which are available at convenience stores.  Blunts are not made from premium cigars nor do they use natural tobacco leaves; they use homogenized tobacco leaf.  A long-filler premium cigar cannot be emptied in the same way a short-filler cigar can and it would be prohibitively expensive to purchase a premium cigar to smoke marijuana.  So, even if you think the government should prohibit products which can potentially have illicit uses, you must understand that premium cigars do not fit into that category.  Furthermore, if you follow the logic of prohibiting products that can be used to smoke marijuana, then you will have to ban all paper, all plastic bottles, apples, and a myriad of other benign objects.

Ultimately, the idea of banning a product that has potentially illicit uses is absurd; by that logic you could ban almost everything in the world*.  Even worse, it shows how intellectually bankrupt our legislators are and does nothing to protect citizens or our freedoms.

*This legislative mentality is brought to you by the same nanny state that believes it makes sense to ban products that are “attractive to children.”…..  Remember that our current legislators can take away ever pleasure and freedom you enjoy in the name of your “health and welfare”.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

#WITWITTH? - Where In The World Is The Tobacconist Handbook

It took over a decade to create and our pre-marketing campaign left many people wondering, where in the world is The Tobacconist Handbook?  Well, The Tobacconist Handbook (TH) is here and available at   More importantly, we want to know who has the TH and would like to share your pictures with the Tobacconist University community: we are calling this the #WITWITTH? Project.  You can view the photos on our Facebook Fan page or Follow TU on Twitter to see the latest and greatest contributions to the #WITWITTH? Project.  Thank you to everyone who is contributing, and especially Jessica Padrón, who took the extraordinary photograph above.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Certified Medallion: Leveraging TU

We tell all TU Apprentices and Certified Tobacconists that getting Certified and passing the final exam is just the beginning of the process, albeit the hardest.  Ultimately, Certification must be leveraged by wearing the Certified Pin and using the Certified Medallion, on business cards, store signage, and your website.  After all, if you get Certified and never mention it to your customers, co-workers, vendors, and the community around you, then the benefits will never materialize.  While TU is no magic bullet for what ails our industry, the ability to leverage it is a massive competitive advantage.

PS: every CRT store can get a framed diploma with their logo, store signage stickers, and the right to use the Certified Medallion as long as they maintain one CRT.  Individual CRT can receive the Certified Pin, a personal diploma, mouse pad, and more…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Tobacconist Handbook Proof

The Tobacconist Handbook Proof has arrived.  And, it is indeed proof of our credibility and professionalism.   These 205 pages, 120+ custom images/graphics, and 41,000+ words took almost fifteen years to create and then another 2,000 hours to distill into a handbook.   I could not be more excited to preview it here for you.  Thank you to all of the well-wishers and inquirers; it will be available in September 2009 and you will definitely be hearing more about it in the months to come.  Please sign up for our email list to get the latest and greatest news!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

National Media Honors Certified Tobacconists

Certified Tobacconists from across the country received national media recognition for their accomplishments in a news report today:

Gaining positive media attention is a rare thing indeed these days, and important to projecting and preserving the honor and credibility of the luxury tobacco industry.  Congratulations to everyone who has been certified and was mentioned in the article.  Thank you for your support and enthusiasm.  And thanks to all our apprentices.  We look forward to certifying all of you and watching this list grow!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Advertising That Works

Rene' Gerard Sr.  CMT Academic Contribution
Certified Master Tobacconist #1751
Advertising That Works

I have owned my shop for 24 years and I learned that consistant Talk Radio works for me. I have had a yearly contract with my local talk radio station and with that contract I had them carry The Cigar Dave Show live every Saturday Morning for the last 10 years. This has worked very well for me. I can change my radio spots with in 2 days and use it to promote in store events, specials and if nothing is going on I have 3 or 4 generic spots that we can run. I have gotten to know my radio rep very well and she cuts my spots with me so my customers get to here me talk about the new stuff or personally invite them to the shop. when we cut a new spot they e-mail it to me and I keep it for future use if needed. Hope this helps.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cigar Anatomy: Final Exam Review

Premium cigars are composed of long filler, binder, and a wrapper. They are made exclusively by hand, although the bunch (binder+fillers) can be created using a Lieberman machine which assists the roller. In general, bunchers place 3 to 5 filler leaves* together and wrap them with a binder leaf, then place them in a mold and press.  The bunched cigars are rotated in the mold several times, about every 30 to 45 minutes, in order to create an even compression without a seam.  After the bunch is removed from the mold and press the wrapper leaf will be applied.  Wrapper leaves have their entire stem removed and each half of the leaf will be used on separate cigars.  These wrapper leaf halves are mirror images of each other so one will be applied right-to-left and the other left-to-right.  It is important to note that wrapper leaves are prized for their elasticity, tensile strength, consistent color and texture.

*Important Note: filler leaves have only half of their stem removed.  The half closest to the tip of the leaf is the thinnest part and it will remain; the thicker bottom half will be discarded. 

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pipes: Final Exam Review

The most popular materials for tobacco pipes are briar and meerschaum.  Briar comes from burls that form on the root system of the Heath tree while meerschaum is a white, clay-like mineral primarily found in Turkey.  Briar pipes are valued by their age, grain pattern, imperfections, and carving artistry.  Meerschaum pipes are known for their intricate carvings and ability to change color.  Both types of pipe will form cake, which is the carbon that develops along the inner wall of the pipe chamber and acts as insulation for the bowl, as well as promoting an even smoking experience.

While corncob pipes are considered the ‘quintessential American pipe’ because they were invented in America, Hookahs originated in India and were popularized in the Middle East.  Hookahs are considered an indirect smoking system because the smoke passes through water before reaching the smoker’s palate.

Accoutrements: Final Exam Review

Torch lighters require butane fuel to work.  While butane gas lighters are flavorless, liquid fuel lighters will taint the flavor of your tobacco.

Butane lighters must be purged before filling to release excess air build up in the tank.  The proper steps to filling a butane lighter are: turn volume down, empty (purge) gas chamber, and then fill with butane.

There are no ’self-sharpening’ cigar cutters.  The most invasive cigar cutter is the ‘cat’s eye’ a.k.a. V cutter.  Double guillotines have two straight blades while single guillotines have one.

A leather cigar case can quickly dehydrate a cigar while a resealable plastic bag can keep a cigar properly humidified for approximately a week.

Humidors can be made of wood, plastic, tin, or glass.  Furthermore, Spanish Cedar is not necessary for a humidor to work properly; it is a matter of preference and/or tradition.  When seasoning a humidor, one should not saturate the inside of the humidor with water as that can lead to extreme expansion which will damage the joints and/or seal.

Propylene glycol is used in reverse osmosis humidifiers while evaporation humidifiers require distilled water to work properly.

The two main types of hygrometers are analog and digital.  Digital hygrometers tend to be more accurate.

FAQ: Final Exam Review

A perfect guillotine cut will leave ample shoulder on the cigar head; it is best achieved by having a firm grip on the cigar shoulder.

The most common method to treat cigars affected by cigar beetles is freezing the cigars.

Ring gauge (rg) is the diameter of a cigar – in America rg is measured in 64ths of an inch.  Typically, thicker ring gauge cigars burn cooler and longer than thinner ring gauge cigars.  A cigar that is burning ‘hot’, or too rapidly will yield a pointed ember after ashing.

A well conditioned cigar (70% relative humidity (rh) & 70° F) can age and develop for a lifetime or more.  Over humidified cigars will produce an acrid and bitter flavor when smoked.

While plume, the crystallized evaporated remnants of cigar oils, can be a desirable trait of well aged cigars, mold is not.


Most cigarettes are not premium tobacco products because they contain RTS (reconstituted tobacco sheet), they are mass produced by machine, and they contain chemicals and additives.

Maduro cigars have undergone a longer fermentation to enrich and sweeten the leaf.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pipe Tobacco: Final Exam Review

Note: cigar tobacco varietals are considered DARK  while pipe and cigarette tobaccos are LIGHT tobacco varietals.

The 3 main pipe tobacco varietal families are Burley, Oriental, and Virginia;  Cavendish, Perique, and Latakia are types of pipe tobaccos.

Typically, Burleys are air-cured, Orientals are sun-cured, and Virginia pipe tobaccos are flue-cured.  Flue-cured tobaccos are exposed to contained heat and used primarily for pipe and cigarette tobaccos.

Virginia varietal tobaccos are a light tobacco which are very high in sugar content.  They are typically flue-cured and used for both cigarettes and pipe tobaccos.

Oriental varietal tobacco plants have small leaves which are very aromatic.  Their aroma resembles cigar tobaccos more than any other plants.

Cavendish type pipe tobaccos are made from both Virginia and Burley varietals.  They are steamed with sugar and/or flavorings in the water, stored under pressure (pressed), and available in a variety of shades/colors.

Perique type pipe tobaccos are an air-cured Burley varietal that are fermented in oak barrels; this process helps give Perique tobaccos their bold flavor and unique spice.

Latakia type pipe tobaccos are Oriental tobacco varietals which are sun-cured then fire-cured with aromatic woods; this process produces its characteristically rich and spicy aromas and flavor.

The primary pipe tobacco Cuts are Cube, Flake, Plug, Ribbon, and Shag.  Flake and Plug cuts need to be rubbed out for smoking.

Friday, July 10, 2009

History: Final Exam Review

By the time Europeans arrived in America they found the indigenous peoples had been fermenting tobacco and using añejamiento (aging) techniques for thousands of years.
John Rolfe was the first N. American settler to cultivate tobacco commercially in Jamestown, VA, in 1612.

Since the discovery of tobacco in the “new world”, punishment for tobacco use has included taxation, imprisonment, spiritual condemnation, and physical mutilation.

In 1676, the “cigar” as we know it today, wrapper, binder, and filler, was ‘invented’ in Sevilla, Spain.  At that time Spain only allowed agricultural production in Cuba, not manufacturing.

The 1700s were characterized by the spreading of tobacco factories throughout Europe.

During the 1800s, the invention of cigar bands and labels helped distinguish what seemed like generic products.  In the process, cigar makers pioneered brand identity, point of purchase and affective marketing.  The introduction of lithography helped cigar makers create cigar bands and labels that were (and are) extraordinary works of art.  Ironically, the quality and attractiveness of cigar bands/labels have little or nothing to do with the quality of the cigars they adorn.

In America, around 1905, there were over 70,000 registered cigar factories and 7 out of 10 men smoked cigars.

By the 1920s, the decline of the cigar industry was precipitated by the cigar rolling machine, financial crash of 1929, and mass production of cigarettes.

The ‘Cuban Revolution’ of 1959 instigated a mass exodus of Cuban cigar makers to the Dominican Republic, Central America, Canary Islands, and the United States of America.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I just returned from the 75th Anniversary of the RTDA, now IPCPR, in Houston. I thought I might sleep a full 24 hours today, but I got up bright and early. Despite my bloodshot eyes, aching muscles, and the loss of my voice, I am rejuvenated and more excited about the future than ever before. Great Cigar makers are proactively organizing and working to defeat the absurd taxes proposed by the Senate and Congress: this is truly a fight for our livelihood. For the first time ever, these artists and artisans are working hard to project the Credibility and Value of our industry, demonstrating the differences from a luxury, quality of life experience, and an unhealthy habit. We must separate ourselves from big tobacco.

The TU Seminar was a GREAT SUCCESS!! Beyond all expectations! Over one hundred people came to our public debut and the feedback was overwhelming. Tobacconists are thirsty for Credibility and we are just the organization to empower them to earn it. It seemed like I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being stopped by someone who attended or heard about it. Tobacconists were so excited I was giving mini lectures on the sales floor, at vendor booths, in the bar, lobby and even in moving automobiles. Here is an excerpt from the introduction part of the Seminar:

“Welcome and thank you for coming. It is a privilege to be here, speaking to you: Retail Tobacconists, my favorite people in the world.

No other professionals have as much passion yet fight as hard for their integrity, credibility and success.

So, Tobacconists are my favorite people…… Great American Freedom Fighters, in the tradition of our Founding Fathers, Tobacconists are preserving our inalienable right to pursue our own happiness. Not “happiness” which is defined by our government, legislators, pop culture, warped statistics, or anything else. Happiness can only be defined by the individual. By me, for me. By you, for you.”
And then they applauded, so I will stop there.

As Mr. Jose Orlando Padron says: ‘ You must crawl before you walk, and walk before you run ‘. So we will heed that advice and take things slow, since every effort and decision we put in now is geared towards PRESERVING LUXURY TOBACCO FOR GENERATIONS TO COME.

As usual, we are dealing with TU specific, or big-picture topics here. If you want some day to day coverage of the show, check out David Savona’s Blog on the CA website. I think he was blogging prolifically in his sleep; I don’t know when he found the time since every time I saw him he was drinking, smoking, or eating.

Friday, July 3, 2009

F-D-Absurdity: Electronic Cigarettes


On Wednesday July, 22 the FDA held a press conference which essentially banned e-cigarettes and tried to spin the information (as opposed to scientific data) so it seems like they are as bad as cigarettes.   Dr. Michael Siegel does a great job of outlining the lunacy of the FDA’s position in his article:  FDA Lunacy: Product We Know Will Kill 400,000 People This Year – Approved;  Product that May Well Help Prevent Many of Those People from Dying:  Banned.

Clearly, the FDA, lung and cancer associations, pharmaceutical industry, and anti-smoking groups hate the thought of e-cigarettes.  It seems they abhor the thought and/or act of smoking more than the negative health effects.  Perhaps the thought that people actually enjoy nicotine or sensory pleasures is unbearable to the nanny state and pleasure police so they must vilify any act that resembles smoking anything.

The horrible irony is that there are nicotine replacement therapies (nrt) whose side effects are SUICIDE, yet they are just fine by the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies that sell them; as well as the lung and cancer lobbies/associations (there are too many to name them all so please allow the generalization).

We all know that cigarette smoking is the most unhealthy of all our freedoms… and it will remain that way… unless they make them illegal or allow a product that will shorten the lives of 500,000 people per year (as opposed to the supposed 400k who die prematurely from cigarette smoking).  But, in a free and healthy society people must be able to take educated risks and live their lives as they please without infringing on the freedoms of others.

There will always be a “WORST” or “MOST UNHEALTHY” freedom/lifestyle choice/personal preference/activity/taste.  And that should be OK.  Society does not need to continually beat up and/or prohibit ‘the worst’ freedoms; a healthy society will just accept them and educate the population.  Otherwise, the most dangerous threat to freedom is the continual legislation and pursuit of health and safety.

In the end, I don’t believe that ‘Greed Is Good’ (to quote Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko)… But RISK IS GOOD – as determined by the individual, for the individual.  Risk is necessary to move civilization, technology, and individuals forward.   Risk is the foundation of the pursuit of happiness – the fundamental premise behind The United States of America.  Risk is good.

Dear FDA,
Please relax, smoke a cigar, and remember that WITHOUT FREEDOM OF CHOICE AND RISK THERE IS NO REWARD OR PROGRESS.  Clearly you understand that when allowing the sale of pharmaceuticals whose side effects include suicide, depression, heart attacks, etc…  FREE TOBACCO.  LET THE FARMERS LET THE PLANTS CONTROL THE NICOTINE.  And leave my coffee, alcohol, and chocolate alone too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Hard Truth

Rostros Anonadado (Bewildered/Stunned Faces) by Eduardo Expósito

As a retail tobacconist, I can unequivocally state that the last ten years have been difficult (dramatic understatement).  The challenges we face are unlike any other business persons’ or industry (i.e. FDA, S-CHIP, OTP, smoking-bans, tobacco de-normalization, etc…).  And, if you think the last ten years have been bad… what do you think the next ten will be like?
If we don’t make dramatic changes to our industry and culture, our future will be exponentially worse!  This is the hard truth.  While marketers, manufacturers, salespeople, and retailers tell you ‘business is good’, that is either a lie or tunnel vision.  Business people must ’spin’ positivity because negativity does not improve sales.  But, just because you make money this year does not mean ‘business is good’.  A viable industry/business-model needs to be sustainable; we must be able to plan ahead for things like retirements, recessions, childrens’ educations, growth, asset preservation, business sales, etc…

One of the worst trends that has infected our industry and political climate is the ‘grandfathering’ of existing tobacconists and cigar bars without allowing the creation of new ones.  Yet, whenever these laws pass, our industry claims a victory because we preserved a ‘business’.  But we also put a nail in our coffin if no one can open a new business!

Yet another sad sign that we are in trouble is the inconspicuous nature of our customers.  One of my oldest and dearest friends/customers who has a passion for cigars hides this from his own children; he takes a ‘fabreeze’ shower before going home and swears to his kids that he does not ’smoke’.  Partly, this is because children are thoroughly indoctrinated in school that ’smoking kills’ and they do not distinguish between types and frequency of tobacco use.  On a similar note, I am still irate, years after a policeman went to my little sister’s school, in full uniform with a badge and gun, and gave an hour long lecture about how ’smoking kills’ – still no distinguishing between types of smoking and the value of human freedom and personal choice.  Plus, what is a policeman doing lecturing kids about smoking?

So, without writing a book here…. I would like to end on a positive note… since I have devoted myself and resources to the preservation of the luxury tobacco industry and retail tobacconists.  I am not a negativist!  Our path to salvation will not be easy.  First, we must join and support the CRA in order to fight the short term battles and legislative momentum.  Next, we must get Certified, and project our credibility!!!  But, when we say ‘project our credibility’, we do not mean sit around with other cigar/pipe smokers and talk about how good or knowledgeable we are!  Projecting our credibility is about making non-smokers, friends and family, and the society we live in understand and RESPECT our profession, passions and choices!  Make converts out of non-aficionados!  If every cigar and pipe smoker convinced 10 people to respect our rights, then we would still have our rights!
Final Note:  Part of the TU Mission is to “research, learn, and teach in order to educate …”  and our Vision is to “build and project the credibility of the luxury tobacco industry in order to gain cultural acceptance around the world…”  With that said, we are not beholden to any person or business.  We are an independent educational institution with a clear mandate to speak the truth: the truth as we see it - not the ‘truth’ as devised or spun by marketers or business people.  We receive no money from the IPCPR or any other industry trade or political organization.  You can rest assured that TU will continue to research, learn, and teach while delivering the truth and working to build the credibility we will need to survive… for generations to come.  Ultimately, we will only be successful if you and the rest of the industry participate.  So, what are you doing to ensure the survival of the luxury tobacco industry?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Einstein Smoked!

Yes, it’s true, Einstein smoked: pipes and cigars.

Albert Einstein’s contributions to modern science are so extraordinary that it may take  generations and hundreds of years for science to catch up with his theories on space, time, gravity, light, physics, etc…  Ironically, Einstein had speech problems as a child and was probably missing portions of his brain, while other parts seem to have ‘compensated’ and given him extraordinary thinking, visualization, and conceptualization abilities.   In fact, we are all a little bit like Albert Einstein in that our brains have different strengths and weaknesses and there are many different ways to be ’smart’.  Intelligence takes on many different forms and varietals.

Albert Einstein, Berlin, Germany 1931.  Photo from Fortune Magazine March 6, 2000.

Albert Einstein claimed that he thought through images, rather than verbally.  That is why he spent much of his time ruminating, meditating, thinking, and walking the grounds of the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton University, with a pipe or cigar in hand, of course.

As the proprietor of the retail tobacconist in Princeton, NJ, I like to think that Albert Einstein would be a customer if he were around today.  After all, many of Princeton’s esteemed intellectuals and luminaries are my customers, and they love their luxury tobacco.   But this is not just a ‘puff’ piece about smart people smoking tobacco.  Luxury tobacco is something we use out of choice, not addiction.  Furthermore, we smoke great cigars and pipe tobaccos to savor our time, ruminate, decompress, gather our thoughts and emotions, and revitalize ourselves, among other reasons.
Just as our ‘brains’ are different, so are the things that bring us pleasure, happiness, joy, and peace.   America’s founding fathers recognized the inherent importance of individualism and freedom, so they anchored our country’s constitution and values on the ‘individual pursuit of happiness’ and human freedom.  For better or worse, good, bad or indifferent, human beings must be free to choose their own destiny and guide their own lives.

What would Albert Einstein think about S-CHIP, FDA tobacco regulation, extreme tobacco taxation, smoker demonization, smoking bans, and tobacco denormalization?   Where would civilization be without Albert Einstein’s genius?  Who or what power has the legitimate authority to tell him (or us) how to think? What to enjoy?  After all, we hold the truth of human freedom and equality to be self-evident.

The greatest tragedy to result from smokerism and anti-smoking laws will never be known.  The greatest cost from impeding human freedom is the opportunity cost: those things, ideas, moments, realizations, and appreciations that will never exist, because the opportunity was lost.  But these losses, while intangible, are as real as light, gravity, and time.  Ultimately, every law that restricts individual freedom and choice retards our culture and undermines real progress and quality of life.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our Vision

To build and project the credibility of the luxury tobacco industry in order to gain cultural acceptance around the world – preserving luxury tobacco for generations to come.
We have just finished  re-crafting our Vision to better communicate the long-term goals of Tobacconist University.   While our Mission is tailored to serve tobacconists and consumers, our broadest goal is to help preserve our industry for generations to come.  And the last decade has proven how difficult the challenges we face really are.  Legislation, taxation, smoking bans, and tobacco de-normalization have moved forward at an astounding rate because the culture we live in has turned against us.  Clearly, these are not the ‘glory’ years of the mid-1990s when Cigar Aficionado glamorized cigar smoking; those customers are long gone or ‘in the closet’ smokers today.
While the IPCPR and CRA battle on the economic and political fronts, there is much more to accomplish in order to sustain our industry.  Cigar and pipe smokers comprise a mere 5% of the population, so we must build and promote our credibility outward, into the society we live in, to survive.   If you don’t believe that, just think of what the last ten years have brought, and then consider the next ten years…

“We now stand upon the brink of a precipice from whence the smallest help plunges us headlong.” – Gen. George Washington
TU and our industry need your help to change the culture.  Get Educated!  Get Certified!  And participate with TU in making a substantive difference!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

What's Ailing Cigar Retailing

What's Ailing Cigar Retailing
by Bob McDuffee

 Modern cigar retailers face a number of challenges to survive or prosper in this age of restrictive smoking polices, increasing taxes and declining economic circumstances. As you would expect, none of them look forward to raising prices and losing customers. However, amidst the predictable angst is another, perhaps more sinister, sign of trouble for our beloved neighborhood tobacconist. In recent months I have spoken with both traditional neighborhood retailers and Internet retailers about the challenges they face in attempting to prosper or survive. What I have discovered is that the threats to retailers come both from poor policy decisions by manufacturers and from within the retailing industry itself.

     Traditionally, cigar manufacturers have relied on neighborhood retailers to provide promotional support for the facings through direct customer contact and service. In return for the loyalty of a retailer, manufacturers would offer special purchases, floor planning (financing) of stock and in-store event support. As the economy has nose dived and smokers have been openly vilified, the pressure on neighborhood retailers has caused a crisis in retailing. Retailers are failing at an ever increasing rate as a result of these economic and social pressures but to make the matter even more difficult, they are now being undercut by some of the very organizations they serve, the manufacturers.

     Manufacturers and, to some lesser degree, distributors have traditionally exercised a form of self policing that prevented larger retailers from gaining an unfair advantage over the smaller retailers by implementing price protection policies that limited any one retailer’s ability to heavily discount the product. My research has revealed that today these limits may no longer be enforced against large volume retailers, particularly those selling on the Internet. In fact some manufacturers are now turning their backs on the small retailers in favor of the massive volume resellers that populate much of the Internet. In my discussions with retailers, I have learned of a technique used by some large retailers to secure huge discounts and access to restricted lines of cigars. As it was explained to me, a retailer (either Internet based or traditional storefront) will order large quantities of cigars that exceed the volume of their operation. Then the excess inventory will be sold “out the back door” to other retailers that may not be authorized for that line or that will move the cigars quickly by offering substantial discounts to consumers that exceed the manufacturers limit. The manufacturer provides terms of 60 to 90 days for payment thereby financing these questionable trade practices. The original retailer receives a small percentage of the sales price for their part in the trans-shipment of the product and the lucky recipient of the illicit merchandise then sells at a heavy discount making up in volume and very low overhead costs for the slim margins. With no store front or sales force to support, these retailers are able to realize significant profits. This practice hurts the neighborhood retailer by undermining the street value of the discounted cigars and it hurts smaller manufacturers that cannot offer the flexible payment plans available from the much larger manufacturers.

     In other conversations with boutique (small volume) manufacturers, I have been told of cases where a smaller manufacturer is offered the opportunity to sell a large volume of their product to a large Internet retailer only to see the product later sold at substantial discount so it can be cleared out of inventory quickly. This has long term consequences for the small manufacturer by again, undermining the street value and perhaps the reputation of the cigar as a premium product. It can also result in a shortage of the small manufacturer’s product in traditional retail channels. My conversations with retailers has also indicated that although manufacturers are aware of these practices, many simply ignore them in order to continue doing volume business with the offending retailer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Real Revolutionary: Where The Sight of Tobacco Is Illegal


Imagine not being able to smoke in a retail tobacconist.

Furthermore, imagine not being able to display any kind of tobacco products to the public.  This is not a nightmare, but rather a reality for Bob Gee, a 30+ year veteran tobacconist and owner of Mader’s Tobacco Store in Kentville, Nova Scotia.   And just like a glacier from the last ice age, this draconian legislative mentality is moving south – beware American tobacconists! 

Bob Gee is a bonafide revolutionary because he refuses to relinquish his right to do business and represent his products.   But the government is prosecuting him for displaying tobacco products in his own store, where people have the right to choose whether or not to walk in.   It is a travesty that one man/tobacconist should have to sacrifice his livelihood, time, and income to pander to health zealots and unreasonable legislators who have no respect for individual freedoms.  But if you think our leaders in America are different…. think again.  If we fail to act now, this will be our fate.  And the biggest losers will be consumers and retail tobacconists, because big tobacco and mail order companies will survive and even thrive without retail tobacconists.

You can read more about Mader’s Tobacco Store at Pipes or just google it.  Let this be a warning to us all.  It’s time to join the CRA and get certified.  There is no time to waste….

If you would like to help Bob Gee with his legal and economic struggle, donations/contributions can be sent to:

Mader’s Tobacco Store
13 Aberdeen Street
Kentville, NS B4N 2M9, Canada
(902) 678- 3816

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Real Revolution


Merriam-Webster defines revolution as ” a sudden, radical, or complete change” … “a fundamental change in political organization” … ” activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation” and a fundamental change in the way of thinking about visualizing something: a change of paradigm”.  All of these definitions can apply to Tobacconist University (TU).  
When TU certifies a tobacconist they accept a professional code of ethics and standards and learn the fundamental as well as technical knowledge they will need to be extraordinary professionals.  This foundation of professionalism is important to our customers and our industry.  But, more importantly, as we grow our ranks (140+ today) and forecasted to triple by year end), we will be able to turn our credibility outward and start to carve out a sustainable existence in our society.  Tobacconists and our industry need to move beyond the taxation and legislative nightmare that is currently usurping our freedoms and beating our industry to death.  There is no sustainable future for retail tobacconists or the luxury tobacco industry in the current political, social, and cultural climate.  We desperately need a revolution!  A paradigm shift. 
In the short and medium term, the CRA (join now) battles on the legislative and political fronts.  But, we will need to do much more to create a sustainable industry that will be able to thrive for years and generations to come.  The real ‘war’ is global, political, economic, and social in nature and there are no small or easy solutions – it is a culture war. 
The most fundamental and first thing we need to do is prove to the world that we are indeed valid and credible professionals* … and that process starts with certification.  If you want to join a real revolution, not just pretend**…. Get Certified!   We are proactively fighting for our survival and we must do everything possible to change public (mis) perceptions and earn respect.
*Most people don’t even recognize or know that Tobacconist is a profession… much less one worthy of preservation. 
**Marketers throw the word “revolution” into their marketing mix to evoke satisfying emotions/thoughts and motivate you to bond with their products.  Just because you smoke an oddly shaped cigar or chat on a particular forum does not make you a revolutionary.  In fact, the word “revolution” has been diluted and emptied of its true meaning for far too long.  If you really want to be a revolutionary, it will take work, focus, and commitment.  Otherwise, it’s just an empty word propped up with useless actions…. Don’t be a fake revolutionary. 
Leave a comment and tell us how TU can make the biggest contribution towards changing public perceptions of tobacco and tobacconists.  

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cigar Culture Wars

This week Cigar Rights of America (CRA) reported that the Cancer Action Network (lobbyists for American Cancer Society*) are about to spend $3 million dollars over the next few months to lobby the administration and Congress to increase taxes on cigars and other tobacco products. Absurdly, this is happening just weeks after the S-CHIP tobacco tax increases that will fund health care for people making under $80,000 per year. The Campaign for Tobacco Free kids noted, “There is plenty of room to go [for taxes] for cigars and smokeless.”
You must see by now that tobacco taxation is not really about using the money to recoup societal costs incurred by smokers. Sadly, it is estimated that only 5% of tobacco tax money is used for health care, cigarette cessation and education programs! Clearly, this level of extreme taxation is a punitive measure used to penalize a minority of people who do not conform to ‘dictated’ norms. In fact, the de-normalization of smokers is nearly complete as in California it is almost illegal to smoke outdoors on public sidewalks. And the hysteria and lies regarding second hand smoke has people believing smokers are dangerous and dirty people. Yet, any open-minded person who has ever read beyond the first page of the Surgeon’s General report on ETS must find smoking bans perplexing and unjustified.
Sadly, tobacco taxes and smoking bans will continue to increase because they are politically expedient. Over the last two decades our economic, political, scientific, and ideological arguments have failed to preserve individual, business owner, and tobacco user rights. Just take a look at how many republicans vote for smoking bans, declining rates of return on increased taxation, and the fact that smoking rates are relatively flat.
The increased persecution and taxation of tobacco users defies logic. It is about ideology. This is a cultural war against a certain ‘kind’ of people. And apparently, I am one of those people. Yet, cigar smokers only represent about 5% of the population – we are a bonafide underdog. That means each of us will need to convince at least 11 people to respect and support our freedoms, just to survive. In addition, as cigar and pipe smokers, we must proactively support the CRA as they are our infantry which battles the local, state, and federal government on a daily basis.
However, winning political battles will not be enough either. The anti-smoking movement is funded and organized beyond reason and comparison to any other political farce (sp?). They have waged a cultural war and we must meet them with commensurate force. The only force capable of resisting this movement is the value of freedom, inherent to being American. And the only way to change the culture is through education. So, Tobacconist University continues to build and project the credibility of our industry – endeavoring to preserve luxury tobacco for generations to come. There is a lot of work to be done and we must start yesteryear. Please join the CRA, convince 11 people to respect you, and get educated – sign the TPA, share & communicate, and learn something.

* Yes, it’s true, American cancer has a society and lobbyists. And if they have their way, all of the delicious carcinogens and smoke surrounding this steak will eventually be taxed, controlled, and eliminated as well.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Retail Exposure Test

In thirty years of combined Retail Tobacconist operations I have seen a lot of unexpected, amusing, and occasionally frightening things.  I have:
- had several Tobacconists attacked by drunk and/or belligerent customers
- seen women and men expose themselves; usually to show off a new piercing or tattoo
- experienced countless bathroom ‘problems’, electrical outages, and floods
- seen customers, employees, and products break (both physically and/or mentally)
- thrown out and arrested enough customers to fill a large bus
- chased both wild and domesticated animals out of the stores
- and generally, seen much more of the world and human nature than I could ever have imagined.
There is nothing like Retail: you open your doors every day of the year (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) and cross your fingers… It’s like playing roulette; you have a 1 in 35 chance of dramatic consequences. I respect any retailer who is committed to their customers. Customer Commitment requires devotion that goes beyond words. For me, I can’t ever relax until the last shop has closed for the day, and then there is a tremendous sense of relief.  If the day ends without catastrophe, We Won!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Smoking Bans: A Moment of Truth

The most definitive study to date concludes that smoking bans in all fifty states of America have had no impact on heart attack admissions and mortality rates. The study, conducted by researchers from the RAND Corp., Congressional Budget Office, University or Wisconsin, and Stanford University, concludes that workplace smoking bans have had no effect on heart attack rates and there are as many areas showing decreases in heart attacks as there are showing increases! So much for the junk science and fear tactics our legislators and public policy makers use to justify usurping our freedoms. You can read of the The Rest of the Story by Dr. Michael Siegel.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Double Our Business NOW!

It’s simple math, really – just convert 10% of cigarette smokers to cigars and you double the size of the cigar industry. This is our reality, and in the process we can help enhance the quality of life for millions of Americans.
I continue to believe that tobacconists are modern day freedom fighters, enduring torture, demonization, and endless taxation for their beliefs and passions. If you don’t believe me, just note that today is April 1st, 2009 and tobacconists all over America are being slapped with massive tax and cost increases on their products. The inventory, paperwork, price changes, and customer implications are brutal. Is there any other group of business owner or consumer being as severely taxed, legislated, and debilitated? And in this economy! It’s pathetic. But, there is hope! Now is the time to help our cigarette smoking customers end their allegiance to inhaling…. Particularly if they are consuming products laced with chemicals and additives. They will thank us for it. Help someone savor their time and they will be a customer and friend forever.
PS: Dear legislators, politicians, government people; please stop taxing us to death. And by ‘us’ I mean all Americans, but especially those in the luxury tobacco industry.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Healthy Freedom?

The Rest of the Story blog by Dr. Michael Siegel is now reporting that obesity is becoming a bigger health threat than cigarette smoking. And judging from all of the new ‘fat taxes’ and social discrimination, that should thrill our health zealots and nanny legislators. I have been writing for years about how smoking is the gateway civil right, after which the rest will crumble. After all, freedom comes with inherent risks and individuals should be allowed to define their own pursuit of happiness; as opposed to having it dictated to them by the government, big business, and the health control police.

For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Siegel is an anti-smoking health advocate who has supported workplace smoking-bans; but he has rallied against the pseudo-science, lies, exaggerations, employment discrimination, and science by press release, strategies used by the tobacco control movement. (If you don’t read his blog, you should do so daily as it is one of the only near even-handed and honest publications about tobacco and tobacco control.) Furthermore, employment discrimination against smokers is becoming a big trend in America and it is shameful…. and now overweight people are next… when will Americans remember what it means to be an American? If we are to be a free people, our government must allow us to be free; consequences and all….

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tobacco Beetle Video

We do believe this is the world’s most extraordinary tobacco beetle video. Of course, you will learn everything you need to know about tobacco beetles and how to eradicate them, but there is more….

WARNING: this video documents the intentional decapitation of a tobacco beetle pupa; the voracious creature that ruined the cigars you see on camera. Admittedly, this is a deviation from our other educational videos, in that we normally would not harm a living creature or add sound effects to enhance the experience. But, anyone who has ever experienced a beetle infestation knows the heartache and emotions involved. Furthermore, there are practical considerations, as a beetle cannot be allowed to live and procreate. So, it had to be done.

We have done a lot of bizarre experiments at Tobacconist University, including growing cigar mold, freezing cigars and smoking them, switching wrappers, and more…. all in the pursuit of knowledge in order to share and teach. But, growing a tobacco beetle infestation has to qualify as one of the most bizarre experiences to date. I hope you enjoy the video and learn something too…. there is plenty more content on L. serricorne in the TU FAQ.

TOBACCONIST ANECDOTE: About twenty years ago, a Tobacconist in a major market in the United States was having beetle outbreaks in one of their humidors. They were losing cigars on a weekly basis and didn’t know how to kill the beetles. To remedy the problem they would put lizards (geckos I think) in the humidor at night and collect them in the morning. From their point of view, this seemed to work. But, the problem was trying to catch the lizards in the morning. I can only imagine the challenges… apparently they are slimy and fast. Anyway, being protective of their cigars and diligent in their pursuit of the beetles, the Tobacconist starting tying the lizards to a string at night, so they could be caught in the morning. I think things went well for a while, until they found the lizard hanged and lifeless one morning. Whether the lizard killed itself intentionally or suffered from a terrible accident will never be known. Fortunately, we have better information today and consumers and Tobacconists alike know where to get educated.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Great Humidor Catastrophe of 2009

No matter how much you dote on your cigars and humidor, there are always events and malfunctions out of our control. Last month the hygrostat (humidity control) in one of my walk-ins failed to work properly. Over the course of one night the humidity shot up into the nineties and devastated several hundred dollars worth of cigars. Fortunately, most of the cigars that were hyper-saturated survived without permanent damage. As you can see in the picture above, the cigars were laid out on paper towels to dry the wrappers and help them return to normal humidity levels. Fortunately, the few hours they spent in 90+% humidity did not ruin all of the cigars. Had this happened for an extended period of time, all would have been lost. However, a few dozen cigars did not make it through the night. Mostly, they suffered from wrapper damage which resulted from expansion. Most bulged and tore at the foot while others burst in the center. Some of the cigars were permanently disfigured as they contorted while expanding and contracting.
On The Bright Side
I have been smoking the aesthetically damaged cigars for over a month now and I can honestly say that their flavor qualities have not been significantly effected. While they may be ugly, they are delicious. As a professional Tobacconist, I am used to smoking damaged cigars. Some months I smoke nothing but damaged cigars. Its not so bad really…. life could be worse.
While extreme humidity can ruin cigars by fostering mold growth or drowning the leaves, it is not always a total loss. Remember, cigar tobacco is rolled at much higher humidity levels than 70% – usually in the 80-90% range. So, they can be resilient enough to recover.