Tobacco Romance


by Bob Hazlett

Remember the Marlboro Man?  How about the billboard over Times Square with the GI blowing smoke rings?  Or the end of Ralph Bellamy’s TV shows where he proudly listed all the VA Hospitals that received free Camel cigarettes during the week just passed?

Then there was James Dean with a pack of cigarettes rolled in the sleeve of his T-shirt.  There were movie-star ads implying that just smoking their brand would get them to jump into bed with you.  Soon ads with a handsome doctor or dentist encouraged you to light up.  It was so cool to smoke.  But almost all that was for cigarettes – very little for cigars and pipe tobacco, and just about nothing for chewing tobacco or snuff.

A rebellion began, I’m not sure when, but it began slowly.  First, we saw ‘non-smoking’ sections in public establishments. Tobacco companies set up phony research institutes with official government sounding names to produce “real medical evidence” that smoking caused no harm to your health.  At some time, signs switched to ‘smoking sections’ then to ‘smoke-free’ facilities.  I remember cigarettes selling for a quarter a pack and freely displayed near the cash register for quick sale.  Now they sell for upwards of $50 per carton and are kept under lock and key.

I was a smoker in those days, fully convinced that one more drag on that cancer stick would propel me from my hum drum existence to that exciting manly life lived by the Marlboro Man.  My one pack a day habit lasted about twenty years, in two stints of ten years each.  I ended the first stint by withdrawal.  Slowly reducing the number of cigarettes per day until I got down to one.  I couldn’t kick that last smoke – the one with the cup of coffee after dinner.  That took a long time.  Finally substituting a cigar for that cigarette did it.

My second addiction started with pipe smoking at the office and morphed back into cigarettes.  Why?  By this time, I was fully aware of the advertisement’s hypocrisy and this oft-repeated little ditty:

“Tobacco is a filthy weed,
that from the devil doth proceed.
It stains your hands and burns your clothes,
and makes a chimney of your nose.”

Cigarettes just plain tasted so good Period!

I ended that journey over forty years ago quite by accident.  A bout of “upper respiratory distress” became pneumonia and hospitalized me for two weeks.  When I came out, I had no desire to smoke and haven’t to this day.  That still amazes me.

I can reflect on those years, now as a non-smoker, and apologize to those non-smokers who quietly tolerated my smoking for twenty years.  The smoke-filled air, ashes everywhere, cigarette burns on clothes and furniture, the hacking cough and yellow teeth, and cigarette butts littering the landscape.  I’m sorry I contributed to that.

Recently, I picked up a book titled “Spanish Cedar” by an acquaintance of mine Kit Adams.  It is a book of poetry about the ‘cigar experience.’  Kit told me the story of the book’s creation and his book sales success at local cigar lounges.  I admitted no knowledge of the term “cigar lounge.”  Kit filled me in and gave me some names and addresses.  Later, I mentioned them to my son.  He knew all about them.

The idea of sitting in an overstuffed leather chair smoking a good cigar and sipping a glass of wine or brandy while discussing all things great and small in a small group of cigar snobs sounds like something a man should do … at least once.

So, one recent evening, I did.  There is definitely a lot to the total “cigar experience.”  Just walking into the shop was mind-boggling.  Like everything else, there was a whole new vocabulary to learn.  Different shapes, sizes, styles, origins, and flavors seemed to be never-ending.

Shop to the front, lounge to the rear.  As you would guess, the lounge was dominated by several big screen TVs, and clusters of people gathered to share the evening.  I was surprised by the number of women present.

I let the waitress suggest a cigar and a craft beer, then switched into people watching mode and spent over an hour taking it all in.  I’ll try this again.

Learning the new language, visiting the several shops in my area, and discovering which cigars I like and which I don’t will be an adventure.  Then maybe I can share an experience with my son when we get together again.


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