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The Ins and Outs of Cigar Etiquette

From lighting up to slowing down, here are a few of the rights and

wrongs of cigar smoking. > Gerry Cohen

Cigar smoking is much more than inhaling smoke from burning dried leaves. It’s an art form, adorned in ritual and celebrated by many. We all have our personal reasons for enjoying a great smoke and one way to optimize your experience is to understand a little about cigar ritual and etiquette.


No, we’re not going to get all Emily Post on you, we just want to help everyone enjoy a good smoke. Dictionary-wise, etiquette is “a code that governs the expectation of social behavior, according to the constructed norms within society, social classes, or groups.” Basically: expected behavior codified in ritual.


Zino Davidoff codified the true connoisseurs’ rules for cigar etiquette in a 1967 essay.

He concluded that “the important thing to remember is that we cigar aficionados should present ourselves as considerate and understanding individuals. Changing people’s pre- conceived notions and giving the growing numbers of aficionados a good name is well worth that little extra effort.”


Most importantly to Zino, and still holding true today, is to take time to enjoy. We already move through our day—let alone our life—at warp speed, so learn to savor the experience.

We, of course, begin the ritual of smoking with cutting a cigar. The goal in cutting the cap from your cigar is to make sure just the right amount is removed or you will run into some issues down the line. Always cut off the minimum amount of the cap from the head of the cigar—don’t go all Henry VIII on your defenseless cigar. Most cigar smokers cut way too much off the head. This invariably causes finishing leaves left on the head to unravel. And as you’ve surely experienced, picking wrapper leaf out of your mouth isn’t fun. Make the cut above the shoulder of the cigar. You can always cut more if you have to, you can never cut less. There’s a glut of cutting tools (guillotines, scissors, punches, etc.) available to cigar smokers today, so unless you’re in a pinch, it’s probably bad form to use a penknife to cut or a lance to pierce the end of the cigar. You are neither a knight nor axemurderer, my friend, you are a learned professional in search of respite and enjoyment leave the knives for the butcher.



When first lighting the cigar, begin by lightly toasting the foot, carefully rotating it to ensure even lighting. Use the minimal amount of heat to light the cigar’s foot. Try using a lighter with a classic cedar spill or a long slow burning cedar match. The flame from the match has an operating temperature of around 600 degrees. Today, many cigar smokers like to go all high tech with their torch lighters. These lighters are best used in windy conditions, perhaps while golfing or fishing, since the heat is concentrated with an operating temperature of over 2,000 degrees.

After toasting the foot of the cigar, holdthe match flame about one inch away from the foot and begin to lightly draw through the cigar, bending the flame to the cigar. Neverapply the direct heat source to the cigar foot. Continue to rotate the cigar until the foot is evenly lit. This is a process and takes some time. One of the main reasons people enjoy cigar smoking is to relax. So let’s not use devices (like blow torches) to hurry through what is supposed to be a relaxing experience. When lighting is completed, don’t begin to smoke, at least not yet.

Exhale through the cigar with a strong, deliberate breath.This clears out any residues of charred and combusted tobacco which can cause the first few puffs to be bitter and acrid. Once you knock out the residue, you are ready to sit back and enjoy.


One technique to dramatically improve your cigar smoking experience is to bring our “taste of smell” into the process. Cigar smoke by itself doesn’t have much taste or flavor. In order to really taste your cigar, take a deliberate puff of smoke into your mouth. Raise your tongue to seal the back of your throat and begin to slowly, very slowly (this is critical since most smokers exhale too quickly), exhale through your nose (about 80 percent of the volume of smoke) and let the remaining smoke slowly trickle out of your mouth. When finished, lift your tongue to the roof of your mouth, smack your lips together and try and “taste” the remnant left in your mouth, as you would taste any food or wine. Your taste of smell is imbedded in your nose in the form of your olfactory nerves. This acute nerve center is 10,000 times more sensitive than your ability to taste using only your taste buds which are limited to five basic tastes: salt, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami. The brain houses a databank of “taste memories,” which you will reference as you become more of a connoisseur.


Cigar fragrance is typically composed of six categories: plant, wood, spice, animal, sweet/roasted, and smoke from lighting up to slowing down, here are a few of the rights and

wrongs of cigar smoking.


The Ins and Outs of Cigar Etiquette 22 SMOKE | FALL 2008 earth. You can put this technique to test by holding your nose and closing your eyes and trying to differentiate between red or white wine, cognac or whisky, coffee or tea. Ever had a meal while you had a cold? How did it taste?

Drawing too often and with great force can cause your cigar to burn faster and hotter. This will invariably impact your ability to taste. Conversely, don’t draw too slowly or your cigar will go out forcing you to relight it over and over again. This, too, will impact the taste of the cigar. Examine your cigar and see how it burns and when the time is right to ash.


Deliberately knocking the ash off from the

cigar’s foot may be cleaner but c’est la vie.

Constant ashing exposes the hot coal to more oxygen so that it burns hotter and faster, and hot and fast mean less taste. One aspect of a great cigar is a tight, firm ash (and we all like tight, firm ashes... right?). This is the by-product of excellent construction and expert rolling by the torcedores. Also, the longer your ash, the cooler your cigar will burn, thus, enhancing your ability to discover your cigar’s hidden flavors.



Removing the cigar band or leaving it on while smoking is always part of a debate. If the band has any resistance to be removed due to excess vegetable glue removing it forcefully will cause you to damage the wrapper and create draw problems. Usually once the cigar is lit any excess glue heats up allowing you to wrangle the band free with minimal resistance.


It is paramount to match the cigar’s vitola to the amount of time you have to smoke. Don’t light up a Churchill if you only have 20 minutes to enjoy it, because you won’t. You’ll feel just like you did after that bad night in Vegas: cheated—but this time, without bus fare in your pocket.


While smoking, understand that cigar smoke and tobacco is alkaloid and will stimulate saliva production. Try and keep the head of your cigar as dry as possible. Leaving the cigar in your mouth, clenching it between your teeth or dipping it into your favorite drink will cause the porous tobacco leaves to absorb the excess liquids, like a sponge. This in turn will impair the draw and ultimately impact your ability to taste.

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