A Brief History of Women and Cigars explores the different roles and positions women have in the cigar culture. Check out some of our favorite recommendations!
A Brief History of Women and Cigars
The origins of cigar smoking are unknown. According to anthropologists, ancient Mayan women were just as likely as their men to smoke tobacco.
The word cigar originally derives from the Mayan sikar ("to smoke rolled tobacco leaves"). In fact, A Guatemalan ceramic pot dating back to the tenth century depicts a Mayan man smoking tobacco leaves tied together with a string.
As for women and cigars, the earliest evidence of women smoking is in fourteenth-century Aztec culture. Tobacco was used for spiritual and medicinal purposes by women doctors and midwives. An illustration features Aztec women being handed flowers and smoking pipes before eating at a banquet.
In 1492, during his explorations of the Americas, Christopher Columbus was offered dried tobacco leaves as a gift from the American Indians. Soon after, sailors brought tobacco back to Europe and the plant was being grown all over the continent.
In 1735 John Cockburn, an Englishman traveling in Costa Rica, noted “These gentlemen gave us some seegars (sic)...these are leaves of tobacco rolled up in such a manner that they serve both for a pipe and for tobacco itself. These, the ladies, as well as gentlemen, are very fond of smoking."
Perhaps the first example of stereotyping men and women with cigars can be found in Rudyard Kipling's 1899 short story, "The Betrothed". A fiancée tells her husband-to-be, "Darling, you must choose between me and your cigars." Rudyard Kipling infamously said, “A woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke”.
By the turn of the century, American and European women both enjoyed smoking. But the relationship between women and cigars (or smoking in general) continued to be a secret love affair.
Marlene Dietrich smoked while watching burlesque shows at the Frisky Pom-Pom Club in Hollywood. It’s said that she started smoking cigars in Berlin in the 1920s. At the time Berlin had women-only cigar clubs frequented by writers, artists, and others living what one would call a hedonistic lifestyle. In a cameo performance, Dietrich was shown smoking a cigar in the movie “Touch of Evil”.
Secret cigar clubs quickly sprang up in major cities in the United States. Cigars were considered the property and a privilege of men, therefore, women had to smoke in private. Independent women felt that they had the equal right to those same powers that men called their own. During the cigar boom in the 1990s, women began smoking cigars openly.
Over the last few decades, more and more women have become conspicuous about the pastime. Women began discovering cigars through a partner, friends or through other women. Perhaps, the reason women started to enjoy cigars so much is that there is something deliciously wicked about them. To partake in what was known only as a man’s habit was also once intriguing and dangerous to the modern woman.
But most women say they partake in smoking for the same reason men do; smoking cigars is purely relaxing and enjoyable. In 2013 it was reported that about 2 percent of U.S. women say they smoke cigars, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 3.2 million women. Today, it is estimated that number could be as high as five percent.
Gradually, more and more women are starting to smoke cigars. And why shouldn’t they?
Marketing Cigars to Women
Today, there is a high proportion of women smoking cigars in the world. In the 1990s, it was very trendy for both sexes to smoke cigars and there was no brand differentiation between men and women. Cigar Aficionado magazine says that while cigar smoking is still predominantly a male pursuit, women make up a significant (but “hidden”) part of the market.
According to the magazine, American women make up as much as five percent of the cigar market. In Japan, research suggests that some 10% of cigar smokers may be female and they prefer flavored cigars, such as apple and cherry. In Brazil, a growing number of young people are smoking cigars. Women are joining the trend because they have the economic resources to do so. A growing number of women in South Africa are smoking for the novelty and excitement.
Women in the smoking scene attend cigar clubs, events, tastings, and trade shows. They are knowledgeable and know what they want to smoke. As with men, women prefer certain cigars that are suited for a specific occasion because of a particular flavor, strength, or size.
Some cigar companies market directly to women producing sweet floral cigarillos. For example, Avanti, a premium cigar manufacturer in Pennsylvania, markets the Mocha Estilo cigar in convenient easy to carry three packs directly for women.
However, women don’t necessarily prefer milder sweet flavors. Some women also enjoy a rich, bold-style cigar (like a Punch Uppercut Double Corona). Habanos released Julieta Petit (a milder medium-bodied version of the renowned, bold, full-flavored Romeo Y Julieta brand) with an experience geared towards women.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with cigar companies marketing to women. Personally, I just so happen to prefer my usual "men's only" cigars (although, admittedly, an infused ACID or Java can be very nice). Most recently, I celebrated the Eagles Super Bowl win with a Montecristo Classic No.2!
In 2009, after finding women were underrepresented in the cigar industry, the International Women’s Cigar Society (IWCS) opened a chapter in the United States. The idea was to give women a voice in a mostly male-dominated industry. The IWCS unites the manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers with female clients and is a point of contact for female cigar smokers, seminars, and women’s cigar clubs.
The George Sands Society (founded in Santa Monica, California in 1992 and now has a Manhattan branch) is the largest smoking society for women and cigars in the country. At the George Sand Society, membership is dominated by about 60 to 70 percent women. Women bring their husbands and boyfriends to the societies events.
Blend Cigar Bar in Indianapolis (which also has locations in Houston, Pittsburgh, and Nashville) was designed by a woman and styled to appeal to a female clientele. The owners spent $250,000 on a scent system to keep the air well-ventilated. In the elegant lounge, women can order a chocolate martini paired with a chocolate truffle cigar.
“We are smoking the same size and strength as those marketed at men. As a woman who has worked hard in the business, I find it an insult to be marketed to differently.”
According to Lindsay Heller, a New York tobacconist.
Cigars for Women
I’ll admit it, cigars taste damn good. Like fine wines, they are a connoisseur's experience to be enjoyed, contemplated and savored. Whether you are a seasoned smoker or a novice, there is a cigar for you out there.
Some cigars are marketed directly to women. These are considered “Lady Cigars”, but everyone’s palate is different. Mine specifically detects mild and sweet flavors up to rich and savory. These are the type of cigars that I enjoy and hope other women will too.
I have several recommendations, which I love to impart, for women (or men) who are looking to expand their cigar horizons. I encourage women to experiment with the different flavors, bodies, shapes, and sizes available on the market. And don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from your local tobacconist!
- ACID Cold Infusion by Drew Estate is a hip brand with a secret blend of tobaccos. I find ACID Cold Infusion to be mild and sweet with enchanting aromas while smoking. I can best describe the flavor as a mixture of vanilla and rum. I highly recommend the entire ACID line up.
- CAO Moontrance is a delectable fruity number. The blend of vanilla, bourbon, and fruit has a smooth draw is one that the novice cigar smoker will enjoy.
- Esteban Carreras Chupacabra Hellcat Robusto Grande is a full-bodied cigar with one a hell of a name. The special blending of aged tobaccos creates a creamy texture that delivers multifaceted notes of chocolate, espresso, pepper, and sweet spice. This is my go to stogie on road trips.
- Java Maduro Petit Corona by Drew Estate is one of the best coffee-infused cigars available. It has flavors of mocha, coffee, and a hint of vanilla. This is a perfect after-dinner cigar paired with a coffee or a cordial.
- Java Mint by Drew Estate is a calorie-free alternative to mint chocolate chip ice cream. Hints of delectable mocha and mint make this a smooth treat for those with a sweet tooth. If you want a mild cigar in the morning, this is an excellent choice.
- The 1875 Petit Bully by Romeo y Julieta is small in size but offers the same famous, earthy tobacco blend as its larger counterparts. She delivers flavors of coffee with cream, hints of chocolate, and a nutty aftertaste. Beautiful Julieta is very enjoyable.
- Macanudo Café Portofino is light in body with creamy notes of café au lait and a touch of pepper flavor on the palate. The cigar is perfect with your morning coffee.
- Montecristo Classic Connecticut No. 2 is my celebratory smoke. This Torpedo is mild to medium-bodied with a creamy taste of marshmallows with a hint of chocolate, somewhat similar to s’mores.
- The Oliva Serie V Melanio has notes of coffee, caramel and dark chocolate and earthy spice. My favorite version is the Figurado. Beer drinkers would appreciate a dark stout, such as Guinness, with this beauty. This cigar is sure to impress.
- Punch Upper Cut has a combination of exotic flavors including sweet dark cherry, leather, and coffee. This is a wonderful cigar for date night or a cozy night at home with a cognac or a California Zinfandel.
- Undercrown Coronet is mild to medium-bodied with a complex, and balanced blend with notes of toast, nuts, cream, a touch of spice, and a sweet finish. The small coronet has a 32 ring gauge and 4” length, and it comes in tins of 10 that are perfect for carrying.
Most of the cigars I suggest come in different sizes (vitolas) and shapes. It’s up to you to find the perfect fit. They also can come in different styles of wrappers. The light shade, natural, and dark Maduro are the most popular. Paired with a deliciously fragrant cognac, single malt scotch, rich, roasted aromatic coffee, or a savory red wine, these cigars offer a wealth of flavor nuances for the discerning palate.
Now, you’ve got the goods, remember it’s the attitude that really counts. Own it!
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