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Indian smokers rapidly graduate to cigars

The cigar industry in India is growing rapidly at over 25 per cent a year, according to industry sources.Over 1.70 million cigars are sold in India annually. Of this, premium cigars account for over 70 per cent of the business in terms of revenue, the sources said.The cigar industry in India is estimated to be worth over Rs 10 crore and volume-wise, popular cigars account for around 90 per cent of the market.However, in comparison with sales of other tobacco products, this industry is yet in a nascent stage, but industry observers believe that it is now hotting up."Cigar awareness has increased in India. More people want to try out cigars. Appreciation is increasing too. However, cigars are still considered an exclusive or add-on product, to be smoked on special occasions," Rahul Rai, CEO of Fox Cigars Inc., said. Few companies have recently entered into import and distribution of cigars in the country in an organised manner. Earlier, Cuban hand-made cigars were imported to cater exclusively to select demand and some cigars also found their way through the transit route only."Cuban cigars are the latest rage among the rich in India. Cuban cigars have become the trendiest among politicians, businessmen and even youngsters. Cigar smoking is growing in India and it has become a lifestyle thing. The cigar market is an exclusive, niche market for rich Indians. Many novices, who now talk like cigar aficionados with years of expensive puffing behind them, had never even smoked before. Cuban cigars are in demand and the popularity is growing in the Indian markets," said Rahul. Even a 'cigar club' is proposed to be set up in the country. It will be similar to the ones that have mushroomed across the United States since the early nineties. Negotiations are reportedly at an advanced stage with one of Delhi's posh hotels where members will drink malt whisky, exotic coffees and smoke cigars. Specialist cigar magazines too will be available as will be a host of paraphernalia like cutters and ashtrays. Cuban cigars are the most preferred while many do not even know that there are at least a dozen local brands available, all from Trichunapalli in south India.For decades, genuine cigar lovers have been sending out for boxes of well known Trichy brands like Java Dawson, Churchill or Tiger that are also despatched directly by the manufacturers by mail. And, even if one Trichy cigar turns out bad, the entire box is replaced free of cost. In the premium segment, the brands are available in the country include Cohiba, Romeo Y Jullieta, Montecristo, Don Diego, Santa Damiana and Davidoff, while in the popular segment, brands like Phillies, Hav-A-Tampa Jewels, King Edward and Cafe Cream are available in the country.Brands like King Edwards and Cafe Cream come in the country through the transit route only, industry sources said. 



Indian connoisseurs get cigar-maker glowing

An upcoming cigar called 'Foxy' is here to hook crème-de-la-crème in India. At a time when cigarette is losing its charm on the health concern, cigar is gaining ground as the smoke of the season for luxury lovers.

Connoisseurs, who till now had to import from Cuba and Honduras, say about 10 million cigars are bought and sold in India with the market growing at about 35 per cent. According to various estimates, the market size for cigar stands at ?450 crore.

Charles Foxi, the founder-promoter of the Florida-based Fox Cigars Inc., a Premium Cigar Company, says unlike cigarette, cigar is a luxury product.


Luxury product

Priced between ?700 and ?25000, cigars have been attracting the attention of luxury lovers.

“There are at least 20 cigar clubs in India and most are mostly found in metropolitan cities. Our products are premium products even though many Indian brands operate in ?300-500 price bracket,”  adds Rahul Rai (CEO of Fox Cigars Inc, Indian operations). Foxy cigars are priced between ? 2500 and ?6,000. We would be manufacturing about 20 million premium cigars every year. Fox Cigars began in Cuba in 1775.

Industry watchers point that Indian consumers have a high-brand recall for Cuban cigars. Rahul adds that newer brands are coming from Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and, Ecuador among others.

Rahul say that laws regarding tobacco industry are stringent and a significant chunk of high-end cigars still make inroads into the India through the grey market route.

He further says the goal is to make the premium cigars available by scaling up the distribution and also setting cigar lounges in select hotels.

To tie up with hotels

“We also in the process of tying up with star hotels to increase our penetration in the Indian market,” Rahul said.

Food and Beverage managers see the potential in this market and are creating standalone lounges at their hotels. In India, some of the brands that sell cigars include ITC Ltd and K K Modi Group. Last year. ITC had entered the cigar manufacturing business. It had previously launched Armenteros, hand-rolled cigar in the Indian market.

The K.K. Modi Group is the largest importer of cigars in India and is also the distributor for brands such as Habanos SA, Altadis, Davidoff, Scandinavian Tobacco Group, and Villiger Sons.

Asked if smoking a cigar is as harmful as cigarette, Patel says that unlike its popular cousin, cigar is not an addictive. Foxy cigars are both hand-rolled and machine rolled and are made in Nicargua.



At Cigar Smoking World Championship, the best always finish last

The smoke machine seemed redundant. This was the Cigar Smoking World Championship. There was already a lot of smoke.

But there it was, next to the laser lights and the rattling sound system, pluming white fog around a subterranean hotel ballroom in which people in tuxedos and evening gowns representing more than 40 countries had gathered to find out who among them could smoke a cigar the slowest.

The noise, the pageantry, the glittery prizes valued at tens of thousands of dollars — for Charles Fox, founder & promoter of Fox Cigars Inc., it was a far cry from the genesis of the event 25 years ago, when 17 people came by to try a game he had just made up.

When the most recent edition was held, in the year 2011, there were close to 250 attendees, many of whom had competed in one of the 34 qualification events held around the world this year.

“The best smokers in the world are here tonight,” Charles declared after all the rules were recited and the ceremonial first cigar was cut. “Let’s see what they can do.”

The smokers lit their matches. The room fell silent. This was their one chance to apply fire to their cigars. The clock counted up from zero, and for the next several hours, the competitors sat there, staring at their embers, quietly watching them burn.

I first heard about the Cigar Smoking World Championship three years ago, around the time that I began my current assignment as The New York Times’ international sports correspondent. It sounded then like something to avoid: contrived whimsy, quirk for quirk’s sake, unserious and unimportant.

A box of cigars and some machine-generated smoke helped build the anticipation. 

Over the next couple of years, though, as I reported articles from 21 countries, I felt my perspective change. The competitions I attended — motorcycle racing, darts, soccer, chess, cycling, basketball and whatever else — started to feel more alike than different. Athletes, whether they were skating in an Olympic rink in Norway or on a frozen lake in Austria, told me the same things about their motivations and desires. The bonds inside these communities, however different, felt equally strong, from the Swamp Soccer World Cup to the actual World Cup.

My assignment overseas will come to an end next month. As I get ready to return to New York, I feel as if I’ve achieved a deeper understanding of sports at their essence, of the heart of why people everywhere gather to compete.

And so, in that spirit, I decided to go watch a cigar smoking contest.

Slow and Steady

Humans are naturally competitive. That’s what Igor Kovacic, who holds the slow cigar smoking world record (3 hours 52 minutes 55 seconds), was explaining to me a few minutes before the competition began. I had found him pacing in a hallway with his headphones on, listening to Rage Against the Machine at full volume.

“I need to get angry, and then I put it into the competition,” he said. “I almost don’t like myself when I compete. I look like I’m going to kill somebody. I’m not that kind of guy.”

Kovacic broke down the event for me. There is luck involved, to be sure. The cigar you pick or even where you sit in a room makes a difference. But there is room for skill, strategy and instinct, too. One has to read the way a cigar burns, to interpret the heat emanating from its skin, to measure the weight on each puff.

People train seriously for this.

“Athletics like running or weight lifting are the only sports where people are truly competing against physical limits,” Bilic said. “But for sports like football, cricket, there are rules created by humans, and in the framework of these rules, people try to be the best. It’s the same in cigar smoking.”

Kovacic, 48, an infrastructure project manager from Gothenburg, Sweden, snatched the world record earlier this year from Darren Cioffi, an American who has held it eight times. Their heated rivalry constituted the main competitive storyline of the weekend.

“They’re like Magic and Bird,” said Alex Lerian, a competitor from New York who wore earplugs to help him focus.

I met Cioffi the night before the event on a hotel terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The waterfront felt serene, but he confessed he was finding it “hard to be chill.” The contest was weighing on him. He wanted to have fun. He was among friends. But there were a lot of people, he said, who would be happy to see him lose.

A cigar brand owner from Nashville, Tennessee, Cioffi first entered the championship in 2014 “because it sounded wacky.” He ended up winning it. He attributed his skill (besides simply knowing his way around a cigar) to his “really good up-close vision,” which he honed through a side gig as an antique paper dealer. He pointed to my notebook and told me he could tell me how many pages it had.

“Like, I just happen to be able to do this,” he said, sounding almost weary. “Part of me wishes that I could never have done it, and that way I could just be here having fun.”

There are people like Cioffi all around sports: reluctant stars, torn between feeling responsible for sharing a cosmic gift — in Cioffi’s case, being able to smoke a cigar really, really slowly — and wanting a simpler life.