Cigars and Tobacco

It's a source of debate when tobacco was first cultivated, but not where. Tobacco is native to the Americas. It is believed that the Mayan culture first practiced the hobby of inhaling the smoke of the dried plant more than 2000 years ago. As the Mayans moved northward, the custom of smoking tobacco was introduced to the Aztec. Then on to the North American Indian tribes. During his voyage in late 1492 at San Salvador in the Bahamas, Christopher Columbus observed the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean smoking loosely rolled tobacco ( cigar ).

Columbus was not particularly impressed by this custom, but he and his crew saw the natives growing the tobacco and realized that tobacco would become a valuable commodity. Columbus and his crew took the hobby of smoking tobacco, bales of tobacco, native cigars and seeds home with them to Spain. The crew called the plant tobacco, possibly contrived from Tobago (the name of a Caribbean island), and the Mayan verb sikar which means "to smoke" later became the Spanish noun cigarro, thus the cigar was born.

Columbus claimed many islands during his famous voyage of 1492, the largest of which he named Isla Juana and later would be known as Fernandina. The native Taino Indians called it Colba. To the Spaniards it became Cuba.

Some of the finest tobacco then and today comes from Cuba. They also called the dried tobacco leaves cohiba or cojoba. An ingredient in tobacco is nicotine from the French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot.

Pipe Smoking was very popular in England and in the Colonies. It wasn’t until the late 1760’s, when an American General in the Revolutionary War by the name of Israel Putnam returned home to Connecticut from Havana with stock pile of cigars, that cigar smoking became popular. By the early 19th century domestic cigar production was on the rise and Cuban cigar imports were also.

By 1880 the only states in the USA which did not have a cigar factory was Idaho and Montana. By 1900 cigar consumption in the US was over 4 billion, by 1920 cigar consumption had ballooned to more than 7 billion. That’s a bunch of cigars!

The Spaniards must take credit for the rise in popularity of cigar smoking. While fighting with Napoleon, in Spain, during the Peninsula War in early 1800’s, many French and British veterans spread the hobby of cigar smoking.

Cigars were first produced by the Brits in 1820. Cigars were known as “segars”. Fueled by the popularity of the cigar, Europeans first introduced the “smoking car” on trains and the “smoking room” in clubs and hotels.

Cigar smoking had grown steadily until Fidel Castro over turned the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Arguably the best cigars in the world were less than 100 miles from Miami, Florida. But due to JFK’s signing of the trade embargo imposed upon Cuba most of the us would have to do without Cuban cigars.

The embargo would last for over 3 decades, Havana’s finest cigars could not be imported into the US legally for 30 years. One bright spot, the embargo did spur the growth of the cigar industry in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and many other Latin American countries. Those Latin American countries now produce many fine cigars, including many from Cuban seed.