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A burning issue

WHEN Kipling wrote '. . . a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke', feminism and anti-smoking campaigns were not even clouds on the horizon. Now, a magazine that brazenly embraces the Kipling principle easily qualifies as the year's most politically incorrect publication, writes Michael Leapman.

The first quarterly issue of Cigar Aficionado goes on sale in Britain and the US this week. It is the creation of Marvin Shanken, a New York magazine publisher. He is a militant cigar smoker, and keeps 5,000 of them in a humidor in his office.

For him, the new magazine is clearly a combination of commercial venture and a chance to campaign for a cause never far from his lips - 'We cigar smokers are treated like lepers.'

All the articles are by men. The writer Gay Talese (Honor Thy Father) complains about being criticised for cigar-smoking in the streets of New York, mainly by women. 'Have some angry members of the women's movement defined cigars as a vestige of that bygone era of male clannishness and exclusivity?' he wonders.

The media correspondent of the Los Angeles Times recalls having been asked to put out a cigar at a baseball match before he had even lit it, and tells of men who have had the things ripped from their mouths and been punched in the face for their habit.

The letters column, 'Out of the Humidor', is packed with complaints of persecution, inspired by Mr Shanken's pre-publication advertising; e g, 'The lady below us has tried to stop me from smoking cigars in my own apartment.'

Along with consumer tests and close-up pictures of the fragrant leaf, there are articles about great moments in cigar-smoking history. Pierre Salinger, former press secretary to President Kennedy, recalls the latter's fondness for the distinctly undersized Petit Upmann. Mr Salinger was sent out to buy 1,000 of them the day before Kennedy introduced his ban on importing Cuban cigars.

Though oppressed, cigar smokers are not insolvent. Mr Shanken has had 40,000 requests for subscriptions, and research suggests that the average annual income of potential subscribers is pounds 100,000. His magazine costs pounds 4 in Britain, a little less than a good Havana. There are many who will want nothing more than to roll it up and set light to it.

(Photograph omitted)