When you think of cigars, what image comes to mind?
Is it a Wall Street banker, laughing and puffing on a pricey Cohiba while counting his bailout money? Or is it a happy father of a newborn passing out El Productos to his co-workers?
When Alex Wimberly thinks of cigars, he sees a rich tradition of growers and a segment of consumers who enjoy fine tobacco products and the history and culture behind them.
"It's the basis for a lot of conversation, a lot of good conversation," said Wimberly, who recently opened Cigars 90 Plus at 1220 W. New Haven Ave., West Melbourne.
Cigars also are the focus for a lot of talk about the drastic changes affecting the tobacco market.
Now, smoking is banned in workplaces, restaurants or bars in more than 17,000 cities across the country, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.
Meanwhile, about 100 proposed laws were filed last year in at least 34 state capitals -- including Tallahassee -- to increase tobacco taxes even more, according to Dan Carr, chief operating officer of General Cigar.
In Florida, a cigar tax never moved beyond the discussion phase last year, but it's likely to come up again this legislative session.
Higher cigar taxes are not bad news to everyone. Thomas Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society, said cigars don't cause as much lung cancer as cigarettes because they're usually not inhaled.
But cigar smokers are just as likely as cigarette smokers to develop cancers in the mouth, lip and upper digestive tract.
While no reliable data exists on domestic cigar sales, Carr said their industry-wide analysis shows that people are either buying fewer cigars or cutting them out entirely.
An estimate by the company, which sells about 30 percent of the cigars consumed in the United States, found that sales were down between 10 percent to 15 percent in the past year.
The recession might be one reason. Another, some say, is skyrocketing taxes.
Last April, the federal excise tax on cigars increased from 5 cents to about 40 cents on large cigars. At least 12 states have passed tobacco tax increases also, and 25 more states are considering them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Rich Perelman, the Los Angeles-based editor of Cigarcyclopedia.com, said small cigars are made to sell cheap but got hit with a nearly $1-per-pack tax increase. Premium cigars that sell for $20 to $30 aren't affected nearly as much by the tax hike, he said.
Wimberly, a former advertising and marketing director, said when he decided to change professions he wanted to focus on something he enjoyed. Cigars lit that fire for him because, like wine, it takes trained taste buds and a fine sense of smell to detect the difference in tobacco flavors.
His inventory ranges from cigars costing $1.50 to $25.80 each.
"It's just like wine and how different soils affect the vineyards," Wimberly said. "Grapes grown in Napa Valley are different from those in Europe or Washington State. The nutrients of the earth where the tobacco is grown are going to be known in the characteristics of a cigar."
Steve Ajhar, owner of Ashes Cigar Tavern in Suntree, said there are many reasons why some people enjoy cigars, despite the price rise.
There is the connoisseur who likes to analyze the various tobaccos and taste. There are also the guys who like to puff on cigars and shoot the bull about politics and sports or play cards.
"But it also really just relaxes you," Ajhar said. "Unlike cigarettes, which have a bunch of junk in them, all the cigars I sell are handmade, and it's a natural process."
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Source: Florida Today