Flor de Kitty Litter

While I feverishly prepare a cigar review for the weekend, I thought I’d share an odd little exposé courtesy Bloomberg.com. The following headline caught my eye:

Tobacco Firms Save $1 Billion With Kitty Litter in Cigars

The article claims that tobacco companies are using a “legal loophole” to avoid federal and state taxes on cigarettes and small cigars. The author cuts to the chase:

Their secret: Using fillers such as the clay found in cat litter or stuffing the products with more tobacco to tip the scales in their favor.

Kitty litter has a myriad number of uses due to its  granular composition, deodorizing properties, and weight (not to mention its designated role in feline hygiene) but I would think that its pyrolytic properties are less than optimal for inclusion in cigars. I’m making some assumptions here about kitty litter and clay, I admit. I have no empirical evidence to offer, but I don’t think it burns very well.

But wait.

It looks like there is one company using clay filters in a cigarette-like product in order to make the weight class necessary to avoid the tax. There is no use of kitty litter “fillers”.

That’s a weight off my shoulders. I was about to prepare Fluffy for the new kitty litter tax.

Litterary Device

Counterblaste to Tobacco

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In the early seventeenth century Scotland’s King James came to power, succeeding Elizabeth I to the crown of England. James was a great moralist and high on his list of Things to Purge were the Antichrist, Witches, their assorted demonic consorts, and henbane of Peru, otherwise known as tobacco. Witches could be tortured, tried, and burnt. Demons and tobacco posed a slightly greater challenge, so James began his campaign with a war of words. In 1604 his Counterblaste to Tobacco was published and became one of the world’s first diatribes against the gentle art of smoking.

It didn’t work. Whether it was a witch or a fine pipe of Virginia leaf, Englishmen continued to light ‘em up. So James took the next inevitable step: taxation. Maybe it was a shrewd play for more revenue, or perhaps a legitimate concern for the souls of his subjects. In any case, the duty on tobacco was raised 4000 percent.

4000 percent, you say? Holy smokes! That’s a rather extravagant raise, if I do say so myself.

And yet that’s nothing compared to what the United States Congress is preparing to do to cigar enthusiasts in 2008.

What would you say to an increase of 20,000 percent? That is the cap on the tax that lawmakers are considering placing on sales of cigars to United States citizens. The current federal excise tax is about a nickel per cigar. The proposed increase is to 53% of the manufacturer’s sales price, with a cap of 10 dollars per cigar. (In addition to state tobacco taxes, sales taxes, tax taxes, etc.)

This isn’t the first time that Congress has threatened the cigar industry (remember the American Jobs Creation Act?) but this new thing looks even more dangerous – and likely – because those who will supposedly benefit are poor kids. The revenues from this gargantuan tax increase are slated for the renewal and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a program which has in the past received largely bipartisan support. Let’s face it: as an elected representative from either side it’s going to be hard to vote down benefits for children.

And look. I’m not a hard-hearted guy. I’ll take a hit for the kids. Hell, raise the tax to a quarter. That’s a 500 percent increase, and based on my consumption it would make my annual contribution about a hundred bucks. I don’t mind a reasonable tax on my hobby for a good cause, but is 50% of the wholesale price a reasonable tax? King James didn’t go that far and he was chasing the Antichrist and his pipe puffing minions!

Cigar sales make up 8 percent of total tobacco expenditure in the United States. 90 percent of total sales are of cigarettes. Under this plan cigarette taxes will increase as well, but only by a “modest” 61 cents per pack, an increase of less than 200 percent. Meanwhile taxes on premium cigars will go up by 2 or 3 dollars on average, with the super premiums getting totally clobbered. Why is this tax so disproportionate? Why are cigar smokers getting the shaft?

And there are other considerations, aside from the basic unfairness of the tax:

  • Cigar shops, especially small mom and pop establishments, will be put out of business with a floor tax that will require them to pay this tax up front on all their current stock when the law goes into effect.
  • More than likely a new black market will emerge, and what will be the costs of policing that?
  • Struggling economies in Central America and the Carribbean that are just now recovering from years of political repression and the effects of hurricanes will be adversely affected when cigar exports are curtailed.
  • What happens to the revenues for SCHIP when the industry being taxed shrivels up or goes underground? How wise is it to rely on a moribund industry to fund health insurance for the youth of America?

A lot of the commentary on the cigar boards has had a political bent blaming the democrats for this proposal, but the only way this bill will pass is if republicans join in with the democrats to override a Bush veto. A majority of republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted with the democrats today to send this proposal to the full Senate. If successful this will be a bipartisan screwing. Regardless of where you or your representatives stand politically, let them know your opinion on this twenty first century Counterblaste.

You can contact your Senator by clicking here.

The Amazing Cigar Measuring Device

It’s been a while since I unveiled a new Cigar Site of Interest, and today’s site may be an indication why. Today we journey forth into the thrilling terrain of Intellectual Property Law!

I have to admit I don’t know the first thing about inventions and patents, but after discovering the patent application for this “cigar measuring device” it appears that an integral element of a patent application is a description so tediously meticulous that it brings tears to the patent examiner’s eyes.

A pocket-sized apparatus for determining the length and ring gauge of a cigar comprising an outer case having a front portion and a back portion of rigid material, wherein the front and back portions of said outer case are rotatably mounted on a fastening means, said fastening means having an axis of rotation parallel to the front portion of said outer case, said outer case containing plural leaves of rigid material rotably mounted on said fastening means, whereby each of said plural leaves is rotatable through 180.degree., each of said plural leaves having at least one aperture therethrough, the back portion of said outer case being provided with ruled markings, whereby the back portion of said outer case when rotated through 180.degree. forms a straight edge with the front portion of the outer case, and wherein each of said plural leaves is further provided with indicia indicative of ring gauge, wherein each indicium is adjacent a corresponding one of said at least one apertures.

Unfortunately there are no pictures on the free version of this patent website (and no, I’m not paying for the illustrations) but just in case this description was not precise enough for you, there are several others in the application that provide additional shots of mental lidocaine. But maybe the device is best understood in action.

20. A method for ascertaining the particular type of a cigar comprising the steps of:

a. determining the manufacturer’s name from the cigar band,

b. aligning one end of the cigar with a zero point of a ruled straight edge of a pocket-sized measuring apparatus and determining the length thereof, and

c. passing the cigar through a series of apertures of said pocket-sized measuring apparatus, said apertures having unique diameters and said apparatus having indicia indicative of ring size adjacent said apertures and determining the ring gauge thereof.

So basically, this is a ruler with plastic ring gauge cards attached thereto. Whereupon one reads the indicia of the ruler and pokes the cards with a cigar to adjudge the ring gauge of the aforesaid cigar. Because otherwise, you’ll never know what you’re smoking. No, really:

While many manufacturers use similar standard sizes for their cigars, they typically assign their own proprietary names for the various sizes of the cigars they make. These proprietary names, however, do not typically appear on the paper band or ring on the cigar itself. Rather, the paper band typically contains only the manufacturer’s name. Table 1 lists examples of sizes and names of various cigars according to The Cigar Companion.

Each manufacturer has its own blend, and each manufacturer generally uses a different blend of tobaccos in each of the sizes of cigars it makes in its product line.

Thus, a cigar smoker who has enjoyed a particular cigar cannot use the manufacturer’s name on the paper band to determine the name or size of the particular cigar. Accordingly, such a cigar smoker has no way to purchase the same cigar.

The application filing date on this extraordinary invention is 1995 and it was published in 1997. Sounds about right. What’s even better is that there’s another patent that cites this one for a gadget called a “Novelty Cigar Gauge and Measuring Apparatus,” or “Cigar-O-Gauge,” made for Cigar Aficionado. The Cigar-O-Gauge is described a bit more succinctly as “A Flat Paper Product Pullout Insert Titled ‘Ring Gauge Guide and Ruler’.”

I bet the Cigar-O-Gauge looks a little like my Cigar Measuring Device, which I have used for years, as you can see by the coffee stain which was carefully applied to distinguish it as my personal property:

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Courtesy freepatentsonline.com, may I present today’s Cigar Site of Interest:

The Cigar Measuring Device

Jack’s Brain…Better with Coke

I was searching for information about a particular cigar the other day and ran across an interesting website with reviews for hundreds of cigars. "Review" might be an overstatement, since Jack's assessments are extremely terse summaries, including price, how much of the cigar he smoked, and oddly, how well the cigar tastes with Coke. Sometimes he surprises us and has a Dr. Pepper instead, but mostly it's Coke. This fellow really enjoys his Coke. Often we learn how the cigar affected the taste of his Coke, as well as how the Coke interacted with his cigar. I find this highly entertaining, for some reason.

He's far more prolix on the subject of food, so if you live in or travel to the Phoenix area his restaurant reviews are definitely worth a look.

And while his cigar reviews are not particularly helpful, the Cigar-Coke Nexus makes Jack's Brain today's Cigar Site of Interest.

Cigar — Taste of Men

I've been fighting a cold for the past four or five days so my forays into the humidor have been mostly of the virtual variety. I picked up a K. Hansotia sampler from Cigarbid, lost a bid on some 5 Vegas Series A, and have been poking around for interesting cigar sites.

Among the more interesting I found is a Chinese site for The Landgent International Apartment complex in Beijing. Under the Life Style tab are listed: Coffee Life, Grape Wine Culture, and most intriguingly, Tasting Cigar.

This essay on the history and culture of cigar smoking is worth looking at, if only for the inventive use of English employed by the translator, who may or may not be electronic in nature. Might be a combination of the two.

What I like about this page is the author's passion for cigars. His command of English is a little shaky, but he knows whereof he smokes.

Each bottle of fine grape wine is marked with the producing areas, species of the grapes and the year of production. But not every European knows this. They can drink grape wine everyday, just like most Chinese people drink tea. At least people who go to the restaurant drink tea there, but not everybody knows the nuance between Bi Luochun of Suzhou and of Wuxi. Cigars are of the same. Good cigars are marked with their brands, producing areas and year of production. Thus if you buy a cigar only for the purpose of the price of 300 yuan RMB per cigar, it is more piquant to burn the money directly.

Damn straight.

While some of the advice offered here is a little bit suspect — "you shall first knead the cigar body to see whether the cigar clothes have got neck and crop" — the author has all due respect for the holy smoke.

Just remember:

Smoking cigars, just like drinking the pure afternoon tea in British system, is a fussy and rigid ritual. There are rigid requirements from the implement to the tie-in refreshments and to the topics discussed by the invited people, and even to the rest room in the house. Besides, the British Queen will absolutely not invite people to drink the sacking Lipton black tea, and people who smoke cigars will never hand over a machine-made small cigar and say, “Smoke a cigar, please.”

And also, lest you fall into this all too familiar trap: no cigar smoking while playing mah-jong. Check it: The Landgent