There was a time when it seemed like cigars had died a peaceful death, their presence mourned in gangster films depicting the 1920’s or any image of the golden age of Hollywood fat cats. However, in the 1990s a kind of quantum shift in terms of public attitudes occurred when it came to this more exotic form of tobacco. Trendsetters and celebrities alike put aside their cigarettes and instead began to explore a new world of exclusive smoking that infuriated health advocates and inspired millions of others to do the same.
Once derided and avoided due to their powerful odor and thick smoke, cigars began to be seen in a new light around 1992. Although sales had dropped considerably since their peak in the mid-1960’s, cigars began to gain new momentum as hand-rolled, long-leafed smoking accessories. As a small groundswell movement of interest began to build, a new industry sprung up around the cigar, with smoking lounges and magazines devoted to the celebration of the product sprouting up all over America.
The key turning point in the cigar craze was the involvement of celebrities, mostly actors, who began to trumpet their passion for the leafy tobacco. Whereas strong public pressure had reduced the image of the cigarette to an all-time low, preventing its wholesale endorsement by public figures, cigars were another story altogether. With a diverse cast of characters like Demi Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing on the cover of magazines like ‘Cigar Aficionado’, the exclusive tobacco final had the figureheads it needed in order to cut deep into the heart of popular culture. It wasn’t long before cigars had lost the racy, almost vice-like image that had attracted many people to them initially and instead embraced a new sense of cool. The incongruous image of a young starlet with a fat cigar in her hand became a common sight on television, in movies and even in supermarket tabloids. These same scandal rags also had a field day with the testimony in the Monica Lewinsky trial that President Bill Clinton had perhaps found a much more personal use for a cigar, one with questionable effects on the health of his political career.
While cigars were able to enjoy a 5 year period as a talked about luxury product, eventually, like to many other 1990’s trends, the market bubble burst. As more and more companies tried to grab a slice of the profitable tobacco pie, it grew increasingly difficult for longtime cigar manufacturers to source high quality leaves. The result was an influx of low-grade, commoditized cigars that turned many people off. In combination with the sudden disappearance of the good stuff, cigars were out almost as quickly as they were in, and by 1997 it was clear that their moment in the sun was over.
The glory days of hand-rolled cigar shops and trendy smoking lounges might be gone, but the cigar’s continued acceptance in mainstream society can be largely attributed to the enthusiasm ignited by the 90’s boom. As health concerns have multiplied, cigars have returned to their role as a niche product, a lifestyle choice still associated with the elite, and a fond reminder of a time in our lives when everyone seemed willing to at least try puffing on a stogie.