Cigar etiquette

Yes, there is a right way to smoke a cigar. We’ve been perfecting it for years.

It has nothing to do with envy. Nor has it to do with size. It’s not that it’s cool. Or sexual. There is nothing about a long brown object in their mouths that most men find erotic. It’s about a smoke. That’s all there is to it. It’s about lighting a cigar and smoking it.

I am often asked about the pageantry of cigar smoking. Whether I have a special time of day when I light one. Or what my preferred drink is while I savour a cigar. I find these questions foolish. And the people who answer them seriously even more so. There is nothing magical or mysterious about six inches of tobacco leaf. Nor is there a ceremony that hails back to the Knights Templar or the building of Solomon’s temple. There are people who believe in the charade. Who only smoke a Montecristo when the evening light is just right. And then only with a fine brandy or whisky. But then these are the people who find it necessary to clarify that it is a cognac or a single malt they have. Some things don’t need explaining. People who live the way you do know what you mean without the embellishment.

There is a certain grace to smoking, as there is to most things in life. There are men who tell me the only way to cut the end of a good cigar is to bite it off. These are men who have never smoked a good cigar. Probably because they’ve been too busy watching bad John Wayne movies. Should you find yourself handed one, don’t use your teeth. A number of people have worked hard to create what you hold in your hand. Treat it with respect. I prefer a guillotine. Others prefer scissors or a punch. Choose your tool to suit yourself but cut it right. A badly cut cigar is a lousy smoke. 

And then there is the matter of the band. This is not a ring to be sentimentally given to a loved one. It is a band. And the question most often asked is whether to take it off. Again, those who don’t smoke cigars will tell you that it is bad manners to leave the band on. This is true in England. But then what are considered bad manners anywhere else in the world are passed off as an eccentricity there. There is no reason to remove the band. You may even damage the cigar if you do. So, forget about the fools who try to teach you manners. The only time breeding requires you to take it off is when your host is smoking a brand inferior to your own.

A question of ash. Should you tip into an ashtray? Should you leave it until it falls off by itself? Tough call. The construction of the ash is often a measure of the cigar itself. The colour tells you what leaves were used. And the length before it finally falls is a sign of a well-made cigar. The longer the ash at the end of a burning tip, the better the stogie. It’s that simple. Now here’s the catch. If you’re sitting in an armchair with an ashtray by your side, I suggest you wait for it to fall on its own accord. On the other hand, if you’re standing at a cocktail party it might not be a bad idea to flick it off once it comes close to an inch in length. I once had someone tell me it was bad form to tap the ash. Until I pointed out it is even worse form to have it fall on your hostess’ carpet. Make the call. No one will kill you for it.

Putting it out. It’s a sad fact of life that all things die. Cigars too. You’ll know when it’s time when you start feeling the heat. No, there is no measure for it. You’ll just know when you’re feeling it. That’s when it’s time to say goodbye to what you’ve been smoking. Like any other loved one, let it go with dignity. Rest it gently in the ashtray and it will die out on its own. Suppress the urge to help it on its way. So don’t, ever, stub out a cigar. Don’t, ever, grind it out in the hope of putting it out. Not only will you instantly label yourself a novice never to be invited back, but you’ll also make matters worse. A cigar that goes out by itself will leave a gentle aroma. A cigar that’s crushed out leaves a burnt smell that is a harbinger of what awaits you in hell.

Smoke what pleases you. There are enough cigar snobs around who will tell you they only smoke a Cohiba. This is a fine cigar, and by all means have one when you like. But there is life beyond Cuba. And you may just find that a blend from elsewhere suits your tastes. I have been stuck in Budapest where the only cigars available then were Sumatran. And I have enjoyed them. The Cubans make great cigars. But a lot of other people make a lot of great ones too.

And finally, where to smoke. Manners dictate that one should never offend those around. And this applies to cigars as well. Ask your hostess if you may smoke. Not your host. He’s not the one who needs to deal with the smell in the curtains the next morning. Occasionally in a public place you will be told you are offending someone. This will usually be in a place where the air is thick with cigarette smoke. Be polite. Tell the offended party to piss off as nicely as you can. In the days when you could light one in a bar, I was asked one evening by a waiter to put out my cigar. It was offending the pregnant woman sitting halfway across the room from me. I did. Only to turn around a few minutes later to find every person at her table with a cigarette between his lips. I did the only thing a man could do in the circumstances. I lit another cigar.

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