History of Cigars
As Tom stated in last week’s post, without the discovery of tobacco, nobody would be smoking cigars today. This post is part two of the history of cigars and focuses on the timeline of the Cuban Embargo through recent times.
The Cuban Embargo
In 1962, President Kennedy enacted the Cuban Embargo that still exists today. The embargo forced cigar manufacturers to end their trade with Cuba. The embargo for all intents and purposes, was an ultimatum for U.S. manufacturers. They either went out of business or they had to purchase tobacco in other countries. All of those manufacturers that were producing the popular “Clear Havanas” had to source new tobacco partners. Very few factories had large stockpiles of Cuban leaf.
Castro had already forced many tobacco farmers out of Cuba by seizing their farmland for the government. These displaced farmers migrated to the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua to start all over again.
The 20th Century and beyond
Ybor City is no longer the “Cigar Capitol of the World”. The decline started during the depression of the 1930’s and the city never recovered. Of the hundreds of factories that produced cigars, only a handful remained. Currently there is only one production cigar factory still operating and that is the J.C. Newman factory.
Due to the rising cost of labor and other factors, many manufacturers moved operations to the tobacco producing countries of the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Cigar smoking also became less popular and sales / manufacturing hit a plateau. Cigarette smoking was more popular for many years.
Within 5 years, the boom had bust. Many cigar brands disappeared, never to be seen again. Other brands had their excess cigar inventory purchased at a discount and found its way to online resellers.
On a positive note, the cigar bust allowed cigar manufacturers to catch up in production and many of the bigger named manufacturers were able to get their products back on the shelves in enough quantity to satisfy the demand of the remaining cigar smokers.
For many people, the cigar boom was just a fad and after a few years they moved on to other interests. The cigar industry was revitalized though. The cigar smoking demographic also changed after the boom. There was an increase in younger people, more women and many celebrities and wealthy business people too.
After a lull that lasted a few years after the late 1990’s, there was another rebound in the cigar industry. In the mid 2000’s, cigar sales started to pick up and new boutique blends were introduced into the market. The main difference was that the quality of the tobacco inventory was very good and many of these new brands produced good cigars that met with the approval of the cigar smoking public.
As good as the state of the cigar industry seems to be, there is one dark shadow looming over it. The FDA’s menacing regulations on tobacco and how it will affect the premium cigar industry.
The cigar industry has campaigned valiantly against the FDA with the assistance of the CRA and its members. Recent mergers and acquisitions between larger cigar companies that have bought up their smaller peers seem to be related to the impending federal ruling. People say that the smaller brands would not survive the costs involved in bringing cigars into the market under the new law. In order to survive, they would have to join the larger companies to take advantage of the resources the larger companies have.
There have been three big changes along these lines in the past few months. Toraño Family Cigars and Leccia Tobacco have moved to General Cigar while Drew Estate has recently sold to Swisher. More of these deals seem to be in the works.
Will the prices of cigars rise due to new regulations? Will the way we purchase cigars change? How many other brands will merge with other companies? Time will tell.
It certainly is a great time to be a cigar smoker and also a very interesting time to follow the industry as a whole.
Photos via cuba-embargo.procon.org, tampabay.com & burnbyrockypatel.comA Brief History of Cigars: Part Two by Tom Ufer