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.

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The Best Cigars of 2006

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It was about a year ago when I first started posting reviews on this blog, so it’s a good time to look back and remember the great cigars of 2006. But first a couple words about the reviews that have appeared here for the last year or so…

The reason why my reviews are straight narrative without a number or grade rating is that I have a really hard time committing to a number. I just can’t smoke a Punch Gran Puro and say, hmmm… you are an 89. Or maybe I can, but I know that in a week or two, under different conditions, I’m going to say about the same cigar, hmmm… you are an 85, or you are a 91. And more often than not, it isn’t because the cigar is inconsistent. It’s because I am inconsistent.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t keep records for myself. I actually do assign a number to the cigars I rate, but I keep it private for the above stated reason. I also tend to rate cigars low for some reason, which might lead someone to the wrong conclusion. Only one cigar made it above a 90 this year, and that was a Bolivar Royal Corona from the Island That Dare Not Speak Its Name. (Which scored a 92, incidentally. Man, that’s a great cigar.) But I’ve kept this blog to cigars available in the United States, and I plan to keep it that way.

So in the spirit of “Auld Lang Syne” I have gone through the ratings in my cigar journal and with some difficulty I have narrowed down the top ten cigars of 2006. Again, I find this sort of thing capricious at best, but it’s New Year’s Eve, so what the hell. Here goes.

10. Camacho Corojo Monarca

9. Rocky Patel Sungrown Petite Corona

8. La Aurora Cien AƱos Corona

7. Torano 1916 Cameroon Robusto

6. Havana Soul El Mundo

5. Ashton Virgin Sungrown Belicoso

4. Punch Gran Puro Libertad

3. Sancti Spiritus Toro

2. Ashton Heritage Puro Sol Robusto

and finally, the Number One Cigar of 2006…

1. Padron 1964 Anniversary Imperial

I haven’t reviewed the Havana Soul yet, but you can be sure that at some point I will. (The rest in the list have been linked to the reviews.)

And now for a prediction: 2007. What will it be for the stogie fanatic? Where will the new year take us? I can see a glimmer on the horizon, a twinkling beacon that is calling out the name of Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia. I predict great things this year for Don Pepin. If the quality of his cigars can withstand his growing popularity, if quality isn’t sacrificed for quantity, I think some of the best cigars available in the U.S. will be coming from El Rey de los Habanos.

Happy New Year Everyone!!

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Vick’s Nyquil Cherry Flavor

A slight departure from our regular fare here at Keepers of the Flame…

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On the nose, Nyquil Cherry is a bountiful cascade of rich Washington cherry flavors. Despite having a somewhat impaired olfactory organ I am able to sense the richness of the Lambert, the delicate nuance of the Rainier, and the Bada of the Bing in this heady concoction. I’m taken back by a wave of nostalgia to my younger years in the Midwest where we would often snatch these tasty morsels directly from the tree and wash them down with flagons of Boone’s.

On the tongue, Vick’s Nyquil leaps like a moose into the river of my throat. (For you stogie chompers out there who wouldn’t know a verse from a vise, that’s called poetry.) It enters with a bombastic flourish of sweetness, followed by an alcohol tang. With some dismay I must add, however, that an obtrusively metallic, somewhat mentholated note strikes deep within the first swallow of this sweet liqueur. And while certainly expected, I can’t say I entirely appreciated the lengthy and unpleasantly medicinal finish.

This year’s vintage is not among the best, I must say. And yet it’s a vast improvement over the disastrous 1998. Pair this with a nice souffle or cough au vin.

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Salud!

(Needless to say… the cigar reviews are on hold for a while.)

JR Cigars Weekly Special Conundrum

The weekly special announced by JR Cigars this past Wednesday was for its custom made and designed Medal of Honor cigars.cnv0237.jpg I have enjoyed and even reviewed one size in this line, so I was surprised to see that they are being discontinued. I was not surprised, subsequently, to hear that there was a run on the weekly special and supplies were quickly exhausted. They were very smooth and tasty smokes, typical Villazon quality, big Honduran flavor. I’m glad I still have a few ferretted away in the humidor.

What interests me is that the replacement chosen by JR is an entry in their Library Editions series. I have always been curious about these cigars, but have never taken a chance on them. I have also been curious about the Flor de A. Allones cigar, a reportedly heavyweight smoke– also from Villazon– that I’ve been looking at and wondering about for a few months now. So I was happy to see that the Library Edition on sale is “The Old Man and the Sea,” the Flor de A. Allones selection. (And included with that is a free book called The Complete Guide to Habanos.)

Now what caught my attention is the size of the Flor de A. Allones in the Library Edition : 6.25 x 45. Glancing through the Villazon cigars in the JR Catalog, Excalibur, El Rey del Mundo, Punch, etc., I don’t see any cigars in that size. A few come close, but I didn’t see any that are exactly those proportions…

Except for ONE: the Medal of Honor cigars. Both “The Intellect” and “The Shadow Prince” are 6.25 x 45. And ALL of the Villazon entries in the Library Editions, Bolivar, Excalibur, El Rey del Mundo, etc., measure 6.25 x 45. Same cigar maker, same size… SAME CIGAR??

Eh… probably not. Looking at the composition, the Flor de A. Allones is not the same as the Medal of Honor Intellect. But the Punch entry, “The Prince” by Machiavelli, does appear to have the exact same composition and size as the Medal of Honor “Intellect.” But is it really the same cigar?

And the more important question: how much longer can Cigarfan fend off his weekend chores by pretending to be hard at work on the computer, cooking up purposeless and cockamamie theories about the marketing practices of cigar distributors?

Not much longer, I’m afraid. Just long enough to pull the trigger on that Allones deal. Have a great Labor Day weekend everyone.

Tobacconist Advertising (1910)

I had some idle time at work the other day and ran across an interesting old book: Tobacconist Advertising : A Collection of Selling Phrases, Descriptions, and Illustrated Advertisements as used by Successful Advertisers by William Borsodi. Published in 1910.

I could find few ads for anything other than Havanas, either imported or clear. Most of the ad copy was as cheesy as ad copy today, but there were a couple gems I’d like to share with you.

It’s no puzzle to pick out the man who smokes our special 5 cent cigar. Signs of nervous prostration are not depicted on his countenance, but rather self-satisfaction and content, for he knows a good thing when he sees it. Our Bachelor 5 center is all right every way; but if you like something even better, nothing can fill the bill better than our Lancaster at 10 cents. –J.E. Tyler & Co., Pueblo CO

The only name brand I recognized among the ads was Cuesta Rey. The rest:

  • Kook’s Templar
  • Taco
  • Samuel Smiles
  • Little Opera
  • Uncle Oscar
  • Turf
  • Anna Held
  • First Consul

Here’s a sentiment I can agree with. I have never cared for Sumatra/Indonesian wrappers, generally speaking. But evidently they’ve been using them for some time:

There’s many a bad cigar on the inside of a Sumatra wrapper. There’s many a good cigar that never saw a Sumatra wrapper. Sumatra wrappers cost a great deal–don’t add one iota to the smoking qualities of the cigar–simply make the cigar look pretty. –Shryock-Johnson Mfg. Co., St. Louis Mo.

And finally, a suggestion that I will bet a few people have tried. I haven’t yet used this method, but according to Herbert it’s the only way:

Ever smoke two cigars at one time? It’s the only way to judge cigars. Smoke one you know, and the one you want to compare with it, at the same time. That’s the way experts judge tobacco. –Herbert D. Shivers, Philadelphia PA

Now, if I could just find a couple five cent cigars to experiment with…