Of Fidel and Flies

While the American cigar community keeps an avid watch for news of Fidel Castro’s demise, (and the unlikely possibility that his successor will shower democracy on the Cuban people, and the even more unlikely possibility that Fidel’s death will result in Bush lifting the embargo) I have been pondering a different question.


How effective is cigar smoke as an insect repellent?

My next door neighbors have a stable of a dozen or more horses that they board and train. It’s great to sit on the patio with a tasty stogie and watch the kids learning to ride. What’s not so great is that horses have a way of generating flies, and with the heat this year the flies are out of control.

In my own experience, I think the flies may be discouraged, but not entirely deterred by cigar smoke. How does one identify a frustrated fly? It lands and it flies away. Then lands again. Flies again. Is this an indication of dipteric bliss? Is it repelled by or — God forbid — attracted to the gentle aroma of my Rocky Patel Vintage Second?

And furthermore, is it true that cheap stogies are more effective than quality cigars at repelling insects?

I thought I’d turn to the experts for answers.

At first glance it appears it appears that cigar smoke is more effectively applied against mosquitoes than flies.

All smoke discourages mosquitoes, whether it’s from a wood fire or a big old Cuban cigar,” says Jonathan F. Day, a professor with the University of Florida’s mosquito research laboratory. “And the mosquitoes prefer to stay upwind, where most of the people are sitting anyway, because they don’t like the smoke either. You’re only keeping the mosquitoes away in one quadrant.” (1) “Every year news stories appear touting the mosquito-repelling benefits of ingesting mega-doses of B vitamins, brewer’s yeast, garlic, beer, whisky, cigars, and cigarettes. While some of these remedies may render the user temporarily immune to the effects of mosquito bites (alcohol) or may temporarily protect the user (and friends) from a down-wind attack (smoke) none have ever been shown in controlled scientific studies to protect users from biting insects.” (2)

As fans of the tobacco leaf we all appreciate the relaxing and stimulating effects of nicotine in small doses. And most of us are familiar with the unpleasant feeling of queasiness and discomfort which comes from too much Vitamin N. At even higher doses, (much higher doses) nicotine is toxic and has been used as an insecticide. So it should be effective as an insect repellent, right?

Citronella coils and candles are weakly repellent, says Joseph Conlon of the American Mosquito Control Association, but a cloud of smoke from a smudge pot or a cigar will work, if you’re willing to let it surround you. (3)

But for the last word on this subject I will have to turn to the ultimate authority on bugs and cigars: the fisherman.

In Trout Madness Robert Travers advises anglers to “smoke cheap Italian cigars, which smell like a flophouse mattress fire mixed with rotting Bermuda onions. They will, however, keep insects and most respectable ladies at bay.”

On the other hand, Anthony Acerrano says “This age-old problem has spawned a lot of pseudo remedies and folklore that yield limited or purely imaginary results, such as smoke cures (cigars, coils, smudge fires). Aside from being a good excuse to light up a malodorous stogie, cigar smoke does little to repel mosquitoes and flies; certainly it does nothing to keep them off below-neck areas.”(4)

So the jury is still out on the application of cigar smoke to insect control. My gut feeling is that the effectiveness of the smoke is directly proportional to the size of the cloud and inversely related to the price of the cigar. But I pledge to continue research in this area and will report back any significant findings.


I now return you to your regularly scheduled deathwatch.

1. Michael Browning, Anti-Mosquito Products
2. Jonathan Day, Repellent Wars
3. James Gorman, Searching for ways to cope with Buzz of Mosquito Season
4. Anthony Acerrano, Bug Off!


2 thoughts on “Of Fidel and Flies

  1. Great post! Last year my wife and I went down to North Carolina during the dog days of summer. We did the same outdoor activities at night and she got tore up by the bugs down there. I did not. The difference, I was puffin away and she wasn’t. Thats all the proof I need.

  2. If there’s no wind, I think a nice cloud of cigar smoke is pretty effective. It’s also a nice way to explain to a restaurant manager that you’re not breaking the law, you’re protecting his customers from the West Nile virus!

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