Written in 1993 for Columbia News Service, but never (so far as I know) picked up. This was annoying because I had invested several days phoning the White House switchboard to get the "just kind of chews on the end" quote (which I then felt should have been iconized along with "didn't inhale") and another few days phoning celebrities' PR offices. None of them would admit their bosses smoked cigars (well OK, Schwarzenegger is on all those Presidential fitness committees so it wouldn't look good) except for George Burns's office, which sweetly informed me that "Mr. Burns smokes El Productos, darling. By the truckload."


«LS1»CNS-CIGARS< ^Columbia News Service 827 words


Columbia News Service

NEW YORK--Pointing to a clump of cigars in a cedar caddy, Steven Coven says, "I'd like some more of those Macanudos."

Coven is no stranger to Nat Sherman's, the luxury tobacconist on Fifth Avenue. A salesman removes the box from the mahogany display case and Coven examines each cigar for imperfections in the greenish-brown leaf wrapper. Finding six acceptable specimens, he pays $3.40 each for them and tucks a few in the cigar case inside his brown leather jacket. Then the 29-year-old fast-food franchiser heads off to close another deal.

Premium cigars used to be the province of distinguished-looking gents in camel's-hair coats, but now younger men are lighting up stogies at $2 to $10 a pop. "Cigars are the hottest thing for young executives, doctors, and lawyers," said Bill Sherman, vice president of Nat Sherman's and grandson of Nat, who died in 1990. (Joel Sherman, Bill's father, is president.)

A cigar smoker for five years, the 29-year-old Sherman could consider himself part of the wave even if he didn't have tobacco in his blood. The store, started by his grandfather in 1930, sells private-label cigars named for New York institutions and telephone exchanges - Algonquin, Butterfield, Gramercy - as well as standard premium brands.

During the presidential campaign, Clinton staffers ordered boxes of Sherman's Trafalgar No. 4 ($112.50 per box of 25) sent to several stops on the campaign trail, Sherman said. Though the president has been photographed with a cigar, a White House spokesman said Clinton "doesn't go through a lot of cigars, since he just kind of chews on the end of them." But Jeff Eller, the 37-year-old director of media affairs, is a cigar enthusiast, the spokesman added.

Other Manhattan cigar stores have also noticed the appearance of younger smokers. "I think cigar smoking is a status symbol," said Lionel Melendi, president of De La Concha Tobacconist. "A lot of yuppies smoke cigars." The son of a Cuban tobacco grower, Melendi has presided over a crowded storefront near Carnegie Hall for 30 years and counts David Letterman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dan Rather among his customers.

Salesmen at Davidoff's of Geneva, where a double corona sells for $13.75, said their clientele is about 60 percent baby boomers or younger. Cigars are an affordable luxury for Richard, a 34 year-old real estate broker shopping in Davidoff's. "It's like having a fine wine," he said. "For $20 a day, you're a big shot."

"I've been trying to get women to smoke cigars for years," said Diana Silvius Gits, who owns the Up Down Tobacco Shop in Chicago. "I smoke a couple of cigars every night." 

Like presidential candidates, cigar smokers claim they don't inhale. But doctors say they swallow enough smoke to risk getting cancer. "The cancers show up in slightly different places, the mouth and lips more than the lungs," said Dr. Alfred Munzer, president-elect of the American Lung Association. "Cigars contain exactly the same substances as cigarettes so they are just as carcinogenic." Former cigarette smokers who switch to cigars but retain the habit of drawing deeply are most at risk, Munzer added.

To nonsmokers, cigar smoke is far more dangerous than cigarette smoke, and far more irritating and annoying, said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, a Washington lobbying group. Accordingly, many restaurants have banned cigar smokers along with cigarette smokers.

The Hillcrest Country Club in Beverly Hills only allows people over 95 to smoke cigars. George Burns, who smokes El Productos costing about 35 cents each, is the sole beneficiary.

But upscale dining spots are starting to woo cigar smokers, setting aside specially ventilated rooms for them. Cigar Aficionado, a glossy quarterly magazine with a circulation of 100,000, lists cigar-friendly restaurants by city. Some, like the Plaza Hotel's Oak Room, even have special cigar-tasting dinners with prix-fixe meals costing as much as $150, including a cigar to complement each course.

Remi, an Italian restaurant in midtown, has even hosted a bachelor-party-cum-cigar-tasting. "The guests were men and women in their early 20s and you could tell they were healthy," said Barbara Hussey, a spokeswoman for the restaurant. "They came in with their squash rackets, and there wasn't an excess of drinking."

When cigars are passed around at such events, women sometimes partake, Hussey said. But stores say they see few women cigar smokers.

"I've been trying to get women to smoke cigars for years," said Diana Silvius Gits, who owns the Up Down Tobacco Shop in Chicago. "I smoke a couple of cigars every night." Restaurateurs are usually afraid to throw her out, she added. Gits has even had a full-sized cigar, called the Diana, custom blended to her taste. But so far, except for her daughter and a few customers whose names she won't disclose, her clientele is exclusively men.

"I think men look better with cigars than women do," she said huskily. "Cigar smokers are people who move fast and make all the decisions. They're the last of the men on the white horses."