Cigars have long been associated with fat cat city brokers in pinstripes and too much cash, but changing attitudes and a growing interest among younger people could be leading to a revival.
Last week, the Financial Times reported that cigar smokers were a dying breed in the UK, with consumption figures nosediving over the past 20 years to an estimated 300,000 smokers. Indeed, the smoking ban, economic recession, heavy tax burdens, and the display ban on products have slowly driven a nail through the tobacco industry’s coffin.
But figures largely ignored that 20 years ago, the cigar industry was enjoying a 30-year high thanks to the mid-1990s trend of cigar bars in the United States, which led to a global spike in demand.
A swathe of grand cigar terraces opening in many luxury hotels over the past few years - now considered a must-have for London’s top addresses - certainly does not point to a dismal death for the cigar industry. In 2011, Marleybone’s swanky Ten Manchester Street boutique hotel opened a cigar concession within its lobby that allows for inside cigar sampling.
Even outside of the confines of the London elite, cigar lounges are opening their doors. Three years ago, the Cuban Cigar Club opened in Newcastle city centre and is bucking the trend by reporting consecutive double digit growth for turnover each year. It was the first store of its kind to open in a decade, and since then there have been two others to follow suit.
Justin Clayton, the manager of the specialist tobacconist store and lounge, says that the state of the industry is not as bleak as it seems. Indeed, changing attitudes to cigarette smoking and the ban on lighting up indoors could even become the cigar’s saviour, according to Mr Clayton. “We’re now seeing many cigarette smokers switching over and enjoying the occasional cigar. They consider it a weekend treat.”
“We have about thirty guys who... I wouldn’t like to say they lived in the club, but they spend a lot of time here. Your stereotypical idea of a cigar smoker makes up five or six of them and the rest are uncategorisable.”
“We’re a bit of an oddity compared to London, as we have a much younger dynamic,” says Mr Clayton.
Their key demographic is men aged 30-45. “Usually, they’re guys who have kids and can’t really go out larging it in town anymore. They would now rather spend their night with a nice Scotch malt and a cigar,” he adds.
He believes that cigar smoking is following the growing revival of pipe-smoking. Referring to the “chapists” (a phenomenon of young men reviving Edwardian values of chivalry, and a well-kept moustache), who have embraced pipe-smoking since the early 2000s, he says: “At first it was largely an affectation to accompany the tweed jackets. But then they get in to it and become real connoisseurs.”
Although the hefty price tag mostly deters younger smokers, there is a growing interest among 20-year-olds who consider cigar smoking a hobby.
“Like whisky, cigars are a pure luxury, and the only point to them for me is enjoyment,” says Daniel Ward, a 25-year-old sales analyst who lives in Edinburgh. He has been smoking cigars since the age of 18, and says he has taken a real interest in the cultural history of cigar smoking.
“I started smoking cigars because I tried one and rather liked it, so I smoked another and liked it more. Then I found a cigar forum and started to learn more about them.”
Robb Montgomery, a 20-year-old student from Belfast is another of these young, cigar connoisseurs. “The attraction is down to the variety of high quality tobacco in the cigars - no chemically preserved cigarette grade nasty stuff but something that has been grown and cured to give more flavour.”
Mr Montgomery admits that cigar smoking is lost on most young people, usually lacking in time. “[But] it’s that practice and time from my schedule that attracts me,” he says.