Who Smokes Cigars?
A commenter on Hey, Bargain-Hunters: Cigar Prices already Hiked raised an interesting (and valid) question: why do cigar smokers care about a tax on cigars? After all, he continues, "Aren't cigar smokers supposed to be, you know, big swinging dicks? Tough uber-capitalists, showing off their success?" It's a reasonable question because few outside our community understand who we are and what we do.
Walk into any cigar shop in the country, and you'll probably be surprised by the population sitting around tables, leaning on counters or sitting in luxurious leather chairs – depending on the store, of course. Yes, a handful will sport smartly-cut suits, Windsor knots in their ties and auras of financial invincibility, even in today's harsh economic climate. The stereotype exists for a reason, in urban areas, especially. But, it's not representative of the majority.
When you turn your gaze from the newly-less-wealthy asset manager to the rest of the shop, you'll find a little bit of everyone. The regulars at my local shop include artists, construction workers, teachers, soldiers and accountants. A lowly blogger even shows up from time to time. We get a bit of everything. And, I saw the same trends in cigar shops in Boston, Washington, DC, Augusta, GA, Orlando and Seoul. There is no cigar smoker archetype.
Because we come in all shapes and sizes, our finances vary as well. For every comfortably wealthy customer, there are many who sit along the broad spectrum known as "the middle class." Some smoke an occasional cigar; others enjoy several a day. And, the amounts spent vary. A cigar smoker who spends $8 a day on his stick spends less than a pack-a-day cigarette smoker (we're talking New York prices, because that's my frame of reference). So, if you buy into the all-cigarette-smokers-are-low-income stereotype, cigar smoking among the middle class is proportionately less expensive than cigarette smoking – in fact, substantially less expensive.
Of course, the price of admission varies. I've seen homeless people walk into a cigar shop and spend $2 on a cigar and investment bankers drop thousands of dollars on Opus X boxes. You can spend as much or as little as you like. Though your ability to consume higher-priced cigars can play a role in what you ultimately light, taste is a factor, too. Members of the financial elite who enjoy cigars that cost between $8 and $10 are happier than they would be spending $30 or more on a label.
While it's easy to dismiss the cigar culture as the domain of the super-wealthy, the reality is that many view this world as accessible luxury. There is nothing quite like sitting back with your preferred cigar, lighting it carefully and puffing serenely for an hour or two. You leave the pressures of the office behind for a while and enjoy the taste, along with a social scene if you frequent a neighborhood shop.
You'll find that cigar smokers can be an incredibly tolerant bunch. Just don't come in and complain about the smell, seriously. When you walk into a cigar shop, you should have certain expectations.
[Photo by Steve Zak]