We are very honored that the prestigious publisher Cigar Journal awarded us the 2017 Cigar Culture Ambassador trophy. We are also thrilled by the response we’ve received from across the industry. And, above all, we take pride in helping consumers better understand what they value in a fine cigar. Informed premium cigar consumers have power, and we’re honored to contribute to this in our own way.
It Says So On The Bottle
Let me tell you an anecdote. About 3 years ago I was sitting with David at a table of a high-end restaurant in downtown San Jose (California). I asked for a freshly squeezed orange juice. The barman seemed to understand correctly what I asked for, but what he brought me was an industrially made juice. You don’t need to be a taster to easily tell if you are drinking a fresh fruit juice or something “dead” and containing additives. I questioned the barman, who went back, checked, and came back to the table declaring “It is a freshly squeezed juice, Ma’am, it says so on the bottle”. Today I am laughing about this, but at the moment I was flabbergasted by such a ridiculous response. I think that is a clear indicator that the consumers in this high-end restaurant should perhaps be more demanding, and hold them to a higher standard.
Lost In Translation?
As consumers, we should recognize that the way we are treated by marketers depends on what we accept, and hence is to some extent up to us. Every marketer does her job, rightly. Whether this is faithfully related by distributors, brokers, retailers and publishers, is another matter. There is a wealth of expertise in the premium cigar industry. But how this translates into a particular blend to yield a score of 90+ (or 85-), at the end of the day, appears to be left up to each reviewer, whether it’s a team of trained professionals, or just an “instant expert”.
For consumers to become knowledgeable enough to wield their due share of power in the industry, they must become discerning about the sources of cigar information they vest their faith in.
Some of the questions I asked myself about cigar recommendations and advice, even before creating Cigar Sense, are:
Is it free?
- If so who’s paying for it? After all, nothing is truly free. Can I see who the sponsors are?
- Am I willing to spend my time to compare what others write about the sponsors’ cigars?
- Am I willing to invest in the usual trial and error?
Do they sell cigars?
- How big is their stock? Are they trying to find something that really suits me, or are they trying to move some stock?
- Am I willing to accept that the highest margin cigars might be my best fit according to them?
- If in the US, how do they answer the question “I used to smoke Cuban cigars, tell me what I could buy in the US”?
I personally got in situations where I was strongly recommended the most expensive cigar available in the shop, with no reason.
- Can they give an intelligible reason for recommending a specific cigar?
- Do they talk a language that goes beyond the word “body”?
- Do they believe that all cigars, that have a certain wrapper origin and seed, taste virtually the same?
- Do they believe that beginners must all start with cigars that are light or med-light in nicotine strength?
- Do they let an inexperienced staff member try to suggest what you should buy, only to be embarrassed by not being able to answer your questions?
- If you are a woman, do they assume that:
- you are a beginner
- you can best have a flavored cigar
- if you ask for a box, you mean you want an empty box, not a box full of cigars
I am serious, I personally ended up in such situations that were, to say the least, disrespectful.
Do they sell recommendations?
- Are the panel members known as knowledgeable? Is any trackable record for most of them published?
- Do they test blind?
- Are they sponsored by producers or retailers they may want to please?
- How accurate do their cigar flavor profiles and wheels look? Do they confuse aromas and tastes?
- How objective do their cigar reviews sound?
To the extent you’re content to “go along” with the loudest, flashiest, sexiest, most highly sponsored, or the quick and dirty, you surrender your power to whom might not have any interest in helping you level up.
Setting up a serious panel, carefully crunching data from many panelists before publishing anything, asking consumers to vote – these are best practices that empower consumers by giving them reliable data that’s more than just “some guy’s opinion”. Cigar Journal, for instance, is prestigious not because of photos of stunning ladies. It is rather because of the professionalism demonstrated throughout years of dedication, focus on quality content and, above all, respect for consumers and all other players in the industry. This is why their endorsement through their trophy is so meaningful to us.
Professionalism may not be duly recognized and valued by all cigar lovers. Some people might even confuse it with snobbery. And technologically advanced services like Cigar Sense might be considered as too sophisticated by people who are not open to new ideas.
What professionals in the industry can do to empower consumers is provide tools and journeys for consumers to raise their self-awareness, so they feel proud when they talk to lounge buddies, tobacconists and other industry players. This is what builds consumer confidence and power and raises standards in the industry, with respect for all.
This is what we stand for.
Beyond asking questions and educating yourself through professional resources, another great way to wield your power as a consumer is to support your local cigar rights organizations. We all know there are forces working to eliminate or curtail this industry out of ignorance about premium cigars and misplaced fears. Cigar rights organizations work to preserve our freedom to enjoy fine cigars. Depending on where you live, you might consider joining any of these organizations who work hard to represent your interest (and power) as a consumer. Here are a few to consider:
In the USA
Be Informed. Choose wisely. Stand up for your rights!