“You’re poisoning yourself with nicotine. It takes a while for your body to learn how to deal with that. You’re going a little too fast. Your brain hasn’t learned yet to produce the dopamine necessary to cause addiction. The nicotine’s not throwing the right switch in your brain. This is about the insula, the insular cortex. What you’re really after here is dopamine production. A smoker uses cigarettes at particular times during the day to produce dopamine as a means of self-medicating.”
“You’re actually taking it up?” he said, his voice rising on the verb, accenting the acquisition of the habit. Wade is a biologist. He laughed and stuck his chin out at my shirt pocket, at the smokes there. “I quit,” he said. I nodded and slipped my pack of Pall Malls back into my pocket. Respect. He looked right, then left. “Well, I’m cutting down, anyway.” Jesus. Cutting down? “So you’re saving your one cigarette for a time when you aren’t standing here with an old friend? Come on, man. What the hell’s a cigarette for? Sit here on the bench and have a fucking smoke.”
my insecurities drove me to call a cigarette company and ask for some pointers. I threaded my way through the voice-mail menu of the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, maker of American Spirits, until I was talking to a representative named Shawn, who seemed, for the moment, nice enough.
My lungs were scissored by the hit. I had two stray thoughts: Something is wrong — the ground rushed up at me, and I thought I might fall — and Something is right — I was giddy, eager to see what would happen next. I lowered myself to one knee. Then I inhaled again, cherried up the ember. The sky loomed bigger and my car seemed farther away and I stood, wobbling a little under the serous weight of the drag. I raised the cigarette again, drew on it, and the sun seemed to jerk upward, like a fish tugged on a line. I walked to my car, extra slow, savoring the glacial cool in my mouth, the burn in my chest.
I laughed and said maybe I would. “Nice life,” he said, walking away. “Shouldn’t be hard at all.”
He thrummed along, finger on the disconnect button. “There’s really nothing I can do to help you.”
“And not without its charms.”
Yet I missed it. I liked the stepping outside. I liked the smell of tobacco on my fingertips, on my towels even. I missed the weight of a full pack and the airy tension of an empty one. I missed my new chums, street-bound and unrepentant. Most of all, I missed the propulsion a cigarette lent me, the daylong momentum of one cigarette to the next. You sail by them, like polestars. I missed that. Still do.
I took two heavy drags, because now a janitor had popped up out of nowhere and was coming up hard on my right. A gate agent was fast-walking in the distance, and a woman holding a baby approached with a scowl. Two other men stood up for a look.
Talk about your anti-resolution: lessons from a man who did the unthinkable and started smoking at 46 years old.
Once you have smoked a bunch of cigars you will see that eventually you will create your own rules and rituals and that’s ok. Cigar smoking is celebratory and it is a personal thing and it should remain this way. The most important thing is that you enjoy it and feel good with yourself while doing it.
If you are reading this, it is pretty much obvious that you purchased your first cigar. Congratulations, you are entering a community that will surprise you every day that goes by. Forget about the old image of a fat capitalist figure holding a bag of money and smoking a cigar. It no longer exists. With the exponential growth of social networks (mainly Instagram) that image couldn’t be further from the truth.
With that stereotype out of your head, we can now begin on the simple and humble experience that is smoking a cigar for the first time. Here are some steps that we wish someone told us when we began:
Forget about the way you smoked that cigarette pack when you stole it from your uncle. Yeah, we all did it. You inhaled the smoke straight to your lungs and coughed like crazy. Let’s put it this way: if you do that with your cigar, it will be ten times worse and you will put down your cigar immediately, never smoke again and you’re going to tell everyone that cigars suck. So let’s avoid it. The right way to smoke your cigar is to suck the air gently and fill your mouth with that tasty smoke. Let the smoke stay in your mouth for a couple of seconds and then blow it away gently. Try to concentrate on the aromas that the smoke produces on your mouth and on the air surrounding you. For now, it will only smell like a cigar but with time you will be able to identify flavors like vanilla, coffee beans, chocolate, leather, pepper and much more. If you feel confident enough try a technique called “retrohale”. Retrohale simply means that you will blow the last bits of smoke out from your nose.
Yes. The very first thing you should do before puffing in the smoke is to blow the “old” smoke out. Put the cigar in your mouth and gently blow out the accumulated smoke inside of it. Aficionados do this because a lot of ammonia and other bitter substances (we’ll get nerdy on other articles, not this one) will accumulate on the foot of the cigar and the will force them inside. Once you blow this first smoke out, they will leave the cigar and you will get a very enjoyable first draw. The first draw should be controlled, with the smoke slowly entering your mouth forming the first flavor notes of your cigar. There is no recommended time for a puff, just do what feels more comfortable to you.
Cutting your cigar might seem a bit simplistic and not even worthy of some lines but it can make a big difference in your cigar smoking experience. Premium cigars usually have three caps, never less than two. The cap is what holds the foot of the cigar together, closing up the tobacco leaves when they are rolled. It is very important that you cut your cigar with a very sharp cutter and that your cut is just enough for the first cap to come off. Remember, you can always cut a bit further, but you can never undo it. Once it is cut, it’s cut forever. If you cut your cigar too far, you run the risk of the wrapper leaf starting to open up and you’ll end up with a ruined cigar and a mouth full of bits of tobacco. And that is never a pleasant thing. Cut it with confidence so the blade doesn’t jam and destroy the leaves. One hard squeeze on the cutter and you are good to go. If you are using someone else’s cutter, blow on it to get rid of any excess tobacco that might be left in the cutter. It is a gesture of respect to the person that is using it next.
Does it feel great? Keep smoking. Doesn’t feel that great anymore? Leave the cigar on the ashtray and leave. That’s is. Do not let everyone else tell you that you should keep smoking it. It is your cigar and you should enjoy it until the moment that you feel like it. Some say you should smoke until the ash hits the band. Others say you should smoke it until you burn your fingers. We say: smoke your cigar and enjoy it. The moment that cigars stop being enjoyable for any reason, just stop. We have had tons of cigars so far and some we enjoy until our fingers are burnt and other we put down on the first puffs because they are just terrible. While you are smoking it, try to divide it into three thirds as some cigars are built to evolve in flavor in each one of the thirds.
Believe it or not, the place where you smoke your cigar can make or break your first cigar experience. Usually, a cigar lounge is a great place because it is a calm environment and people are very respectful of each other’s space. If you feel like talking, you talk. If you don’t, you don’t. Just say hello, we are all humans here. The main objective is for you to find a relaxed environment to appreciate your first cigar. Another option is to smoke at home, this way you will always be 100% focused on smoking your cigar. The downside is that if you want to ask something, you’re just going to have to google it.
Finding a great cigar is essential for your first experience. Don’t worry about having the biggest, darkest and more powerful looking cigar in the room. You will have time to experiment all of that when your palette evolves in the future. For now, just worry about having a smooth and tasty cigar without overpowering your mouth and nose. Ask the person behind the counter to help you with that, they will do it with a smile on their face.
If you are reading this, it is pretty much obvious that you purchased your first cigar. Congratulations, you are entering a community that will surprise you every day that goes by. Forget about the…