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Cigars: A History

Within hours after Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas and encountered the first indigenous people, the Taino, he noted that they routinely carried small pouches containing dried leaves that carried a “fragrant odor.”

It was not long before the Columbus crew learned how the Taino people used these leaves. They wrapped them in a plantain, palm leaf or corn husk and “drank in the smoke” after “setting them to light.” He also noted that some of the natives would routinely be seen with a lighted roll-up plugged into each nostril of the nose.

Thus, Europeans for the first time had encountered tobacco and “smoking.” It wasn’t long before Columbus’ men gave it a try. Back then, some strains of tobacco were powerful and hallucinogenic making the explorers “wildly drunk.” But other forms of tobacco were clearly a mind-clearing stimulant. One other thing was certain: Using tobacco was addictive. One of Columbus’ sailors smoked tobacco every day on the return journey to Spain.

It is believed the term tobacco is derived from the name of a Y-shaped nasal pipe used by the Taino, which they called a tabago. The term cigar comes from the Mayan language. In Yucatec Maya the word “sikar” translates as, “to smoke rolled tobacco leaves.” In the Spanish language this became “cigarro” and the English version is “cigar.”

When explorers returned to Europe with tobacco it was an immediate sensation. The man most credited by history with popularizing the practice of “snuffing” tobacco powder was Jean Nicot, the French ambassador to Portugal. The term nicotine is derived from his name. Both smoking and snorting tobacco made him a celebrity among the high social circles of Europe. He brought the substance from Portugal to France — by 1571 its use had spread to every European country.

The practice of wrapping tobacco in leaves for smoking soon included the use of certain kinds of dried papers developed in Spain. However, most high-quality cigars today still use leaves taken from the lower portion of the tobacco plant stem as wrapper material.

The most common kind of cigar recognized today was developed in the late 1800s is Seville by the Spanish tobacco monopoly, Tabacalera, a company which originated in 1636. Even so, the first formal “cigar factory” was established on the island of Cuba by the Spanish in 1542 where the basic form of what we would recognize as cigars began mass production.

Today cigars come in many sizes and shapes. Two dimensions are key — “ring size” (diameter) and length. Within the industry this is called the “vitola.” The most common cigar today is the parejo, also commonly called “coronas.” A standard corona is 5½ inches long by forty-two 64ths of an inch wide.

2016 Kickercon News Blog