Everybody knows that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but do you know that he also discovered cigars? Both America and cigars existed long before Columbus, and just as he did not create America, Columbus did not invent nor create cigars, either. However, he did observe the local natives in the Caribbean smoking an unfamiliar substance, either rolled up inside of a large leaf, or through a tube referred to as a tobago. Columbus and his sailors packed up some of their newly discovered tobacco and returned to Spain, where the methods of making cigars and pipes were readily perfected. The custom of smoking tobacco in cigars and pipes soon spread throughout Europe, and eventually throughout the world.
Cigars and Ybor City
Jumping ahead a few years, did you know that Ybor City, near downtown Tampa, was once the cigar capital of the world? Many top cigar producers from Cuba migrated to Florida during the late 1800’s, and established cigar factories in several cities. However, Ybor soon became the top cigar manufacturing town, having close to 70 cigar factories. Although Ybor lost its status as the top cigar town by the 1950’s, the area is still rich in cigar culture, and is now primarily an entertainment district. Some of the old cigar factories have been renovated, and a number of cigar stores still line East 7th Avenue. For a trip back in time, a visit to Ybor is a must for anyone interested in actually experiencing cigar history, as opposed to merely reading about it.
Cigars and the Cuban Trade Embargo
The year is now 1962, and before President John F. Kennedy authorized a trade embargo with Cuba, he instructed his press secretary to acquire as many of his favorite Cuban cigars as he could find. Once the embargo was signed, Cuban products were no longer legally available to United States citizens. The embargo still remains in effect, and in fact, was even made more restrictive in September 2004
Health Warnings Issued and Laws Passed
In 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States issued a report to warn the public of the health consequences of smoking cigarettes. The report temporarily increased cigar consumption (cigarette smokers switched to cigars), but the next year, cigar sales began a downward trend that lasted nearly 3 decades. More reports were issued about the risks of using tobacco products, warning labels became required on tobacco items, and new laws (and taxes) were passed to regulate tobacco sales.
Cigar Boom of the Mid 1990’s
After years of stagnant sales, cigar consumption finally began to explode during the cigar boom of the mid 1990’s. Cigars were now becoming stylish, as portrayed by celebrities and the media. However, by the late 1990’s, the boom had ended, and cigar sales tapered off for a few years before starting to rise up once again. Between 2000 and 2004, cigar consumption in the United States rose by more than 28%. Despite the ever increasing restrictions on public smoking in places such as Calabasas, California (March 2006), cigar smoking is still considered by many to be an affordable luxury. But this may soon change, as significantly higher taxes on cigars are being proposed to fund children's health insurance programs.