Final Research Paper

From its roots as a highly profitable cash crop during colonial times to its widespread use amongst today’s general public, tobacco has always been closely interconnected with American culture. In recent times though – particularly since the 1980s – tobacco has garnered a very negative connotation, mostly due to the increased circulation of knowledge concerning tobacco’s addictive nature and latent health risks. However, more so than any other curation, one tobacco product has transcended the substance’s undesirable image, in doing so creating a long-lasting, remarkably positive image for itself; that product is the cigar. Cigars are long, thick bundles of tobacco – rolled in tobacco leaves – that are meant to be smoked or chewed on by its user. The product experienced a momentous expansion in use and social prominence during the early 1990s, which can be principally attributed to Marvin Shanken and his vision of Cigar Aficionado.[1] A lifestyle magazine published in autumn of 1992,[2] Cigar Aficionadohelped craft an identity for the cigar, working to attach meanings of high social distinction, lavishness, and power to it. Promotion and advertisement of the cigar throughout the 1990s, regardless of whether or not it was associated with Shanken’s magazine, mostly capitalized on the cigar’s emergence as a symbol of luxury, and functioned to corroborate these meanings. Cigar Aficionado, being what ultimately kick-started the social revival of the cigar in the 1990s, made the cigar acceptable and stylish, and contributed to its meaning as an American symbol of masculinity, success, and indulgence that gives its user a sense of power and superiority – an idea perpetuated by advertisements and promotions during the 1990s.

Up until 1992, cigars were never considered to be a trendy product, as premium cigar imports, the “best indicator of cigar sales,” were stagnant at around 100 million over the year.[3] This would quickly change, as by 1993, premium cigar imports rose 10%, and by 1995, they would soar to a whopping 176.3 million, a 33.1% increase over the last year.[4] Correlating with the sudden rise in yearly premium cigar imports was Marvin Shanken’s decision to publish Cigar Aficionado in 1992. Following his short stint on Wall Street, Shanken described himself as being “bitten by the wine bug,” which led him to his new career in publication and his first major position as the head of a wine and spirits newsletter called Impact.[5] Entering the 1990s, Shanken saw a promising opportunity in the cigar industry, and expanded his proficiency in the field of publication, bringing the world Cigar Aficionado. In response to a question regarding the magazine’s inception, Shanken claimed “the increasing number of men who enjoy smoking expensive cigars” is what directed him towards the cigar industry.[6] This claim, being professed by the editor and publisher of the most prominent cigar literature across the globe at the time[7] as well as with its context as the reasoning behind the creation ofCigar Aficionado, speaks volumes about the cigar’s societal abode. With diction like “men,” “enjoy,” and “expensive,” Shanken subtly hinted at how he wanted cigars made out to be products intended for males and not females, fashioned to be savored, and of an exclusive, posh nature, not an accessible, cheap one. This impression is one sustained throughout each and every issue ofCigar Aficionado, and seemingly with every piece of 1990s promotion or advertisement of the cigar.

From 1992 to 1996, Cigar Aficionado grew from 130 pages per issue to more than 400, and it progressed from seasonal releases to a new edition instead appearing six times a year,[8] a chronological development that would coincidentally mirror the yearly increase of premium cigar imports that also started in 1992 only to peak in 1996. Beginning nearly immediately after its appearance, Shanken’s magazine gained a reputation for its portrayal of high-profile personalities of all sorts on its cover, in conjunction with interviews and stories that chronicled their lifestyles and cigar usage. Cigar Aficionado, even with no direct cigar marketing at play in its features, was indicative of the common 1990s cigar promotional practice of targeting celebrities for endorsement purposes, in order to help a variety of feelings from success and high-class to manliness and toughness become more closely associated with the cigar.[9] With each and every new celebrity featured in Cigar Aficionado came not only a heightened social visibility of the cigar, but an increased sense of grandeur around the product, because it always seemed to be in the hands of one famous person after another. Among those featured on the cover of Cigar Aficionado during the 4-year period between 1995 and 1998 were such public figures as Jack Nicholson, Tom Selleck, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Denzel Washington, all of whom were male celebrities renowned for their ruggedness, power, and masculinity in both film and sport – two spheres of entertainment America still holds dear to this day. Schwarzenegger, a former bodybuilder and current political figure and actor, was featured on the Summer 1996 cover of Cigar Aficionado, and when asked about the extent of his cigar smoking, responded with “[I smoke] one or two most days. I usually start after lunch unless I have a good one left over from the night before, like today.”[10] What a quote like this does, coming from the five-time Mr. Universe winner Schwarzenegger, who around the time was widely recognized for his role as the physically imposing, ultra-violent ‘Terminator,’[11] is put the idea in the heads of readers (and whoever would do so much as look at the magazine’s cover, for that matter) that since the quintessential tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger smokes cigars, the act makes others view the user as important, powerful, and macho. This of course was not the only instance of a formulaic macho-man being featured in a 1990s Cigar Aficionado, but Schwarzenegger’s story, given its timing and success, serves quite well as an illustration of the celebrity endorsement’s impact on the cigar.

One figure not mentioned above as a Cigar Aficionado cover model, known for his exploits off the screen and who is a part of an interesting phenomena unique to the cigar, is Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky, a hall-of-fame hockey player and the leading point-scorer in NHL history, earned himself the nickname “The Great One” for so expertly playing a historically ferocious sport who many consider to be the most violent mainstream American sport.[12] Gretzky’s March/April 1997 Cigar Aficionado cover is representative of the large frequency of cigar-using mega-athletes that came into focus during the 1990s. Unlike cigarettes and chewing tobacco (which along with the cigar were the most prominent cigar products during the 1990s),[13] the cigar grew to become linked with sports and celebration, as it was not uncommon to see professional athletes rejoicing after a championship win with a cigar in their mouth. Take Gretzky as an example: he said in his interview with the magazine “it was a celebration… I used to say ‘When I make pro hockey, I’m going to smoke cigars.’”[14] But it did not start or stop with Gretzky. Other notable 1990s sports figures associated with greatness who were associated with cigar smoking were Joe Torre (the legendary New York Yankees manager was featured in a 1997 edition of Cigar Aficionado) and Michael Jordan, who, despite his highly-publicized habit of smoking cigars following each of his 6 NBA championships that all came in the 1990s, did not actually get a Cigar Aficionado feature until August of 2005.[15]  Even Mike Ditka, the former football player and 1990s NFL coach renowned for his aggressive demeanor and intimidating appearance found himself featured in Cigar Aficionado’s February 1998 edition.[16] In forging a close connection between the cigar and not just sports and competition but great success and celebrations, Cigar Aficionado oversaw the cigar’s positive image and consumption expand during the 1990s. The tendency of the cigar’s overall marketing scheme to utilize the services of both powerful, manly actors and sportsmen led to the cigar’s embodiment of such qualities as masculinity and achievement.

In addition to the featured stories of celebrity lifestyles, Cigar Aficionado had many more techniques for making the cigar out to be a lavish, heartening product. Two of the more effective methods the magazine had for the shaping of the cigar’s image comprised of selective advertising, and the inclusion of editorials on gambling and golf in every issue. Apart obviously from the main content that any magazine has to offer, an important function served is to market a wide range of products that are not necessarily in the magazine’s limelight. If one were to look through a sports magazine for example, there is no doubt they would find a plethora of advertisements for sporting apparel and equipment, which in theory would further establish the sports authority the magazine wishes to project. For Cigar Aficionado, examples of the most marketed products/services within its pages during the 1990s included upscale clothing, expensive jewelry, premium liquor, and resort/casino life.[17] Each and every one of these advertisements played into Shanken’s claim to the “good life” found in each issue, which is “living well demands that we indulge in things that are of superior quality and excellent origin,”[18] since they all promote other items closely associated with an indulgent lifestyle. By being interwoven with and surrounded by advertisements for other often expensive, extravagant products, the cigar itself takes on a meaning of indulgence. Very similar to the effect that cross-promotion in Cigar Aficionado had on the cigar, the inclusion of editorials on gambling and golf also worked to link the cigar to a decadent life. Both gambling and golf are two activities that many view as supplementary to the rich man’s life.[19] Since gambling literally involves the risk of one’s own wealth in hopes of increasing it, the connection between riches and gambling is self-evident. The geographical location of many gambling venues backs this, because their proximity to other extravagant attractions with high costs generally means most traffic is people with a good deal of money. Golf on the other hand is a very traditional sport, and oftentimes (much more so in the 1990s than today) golf clubs employ dress codes and require players to conduct themselves in a noble manner.[20] Also encompassed in the sport are the expensive fees to play on a course, not to mention the high costs of equipment to even play in the first place. What is clear is that Cigar Aficionado saw the benefit in what making associations like these would mean for the cigar, and a lasting impression on the cigar’s image resulting from such links was the idea that even simply possessing a cigar makes one suave enough and rightful to partake in activities closely linked to wealth, such as gambling, golfing, dressing well, and driving fancy, luxurious cars.

While it is fair to say that over the 1990s, Cigar Aficionado was the deciding factor in fashioning an identity for the cigar, it is unfair to solely attribute the product’s image to just a magazine. The impact that cigar advertisements and promotions throughout the decade had on building up the symbolism of the cigar is hard to ignore. But with what little allocation of tobacco marketing funds cigars had in America – just $3.45 million in 1995, compared to $4.9 billion allocated to cigarette advertising and promotion[21] – oftentimes the advertisements and promotions were geared towards capitalizing on the feelings of power and success already associated with the cigar. Many cigar advertisements from the 1990s tended to simply put images of the cigar at its centerfold as opposed to any other imagery, surrounded by informational text discussing topics pertaining to the cigar. A seamless depiction of this inclination is seen in a series of advertisements for Culbro Corporation’s Macanudo cigar. In one for the Macanudo Baron de Rothschild, a burning cigar is presented in the middle of the picture, and the big, bold words “The Sweet Smell of Success” are at the top in a contrasting color to really emphasize the message, while the bulk of the advertisement is a paragraph of cigar information and diction aimed to make the cigar more appealing. Found in the advertisement’s text is the offer “move up to perfection” and the quote “relished by smokers with sophisticated tastes everywhere.” Judging by this text, clearly the advertisement aims to incite the cigar’s identity as a symbol of luxury and indulgence. In fact, just by being a primarily textual advertisement with no real images present aside from the cigar, a feeling of superiority becomes apparent, as one must read and absorb what the advertisement has to offer instead of simply appreciating a catchy slogan or a far-fetched collage of images. But ultimately, the most significance lays in what the advertisement actually says – the language used to promote the cigar. With aMacanudo Baron de Rothschild, anyone with “sophisticated tastes” may begin the quest towards “perfection.” This type of wording indicates the cigar advertisement’s desire to utilize the aura of success around the cigar in order to pique interest in the viewer, and make that viewer feel like they too can live an indulgent life. What of course led to this desire was the 1990s cigar marketers’ recognition of the cigar’s budding identity, as advertisements not just for the cigar, but the lavish, indulgent lifestyle the cigar came to represent, became the norm during the time.

In summary, an intriguing affiliation between the emergence of Cigar Aficionado and the goals of 1990s cigar advertising underlies the meaning of the cigar as a symbol of power, masculinity, and the indulgent lifestyle. Through its appearance in 1992 and subsequent development during the 1990s, Cigar Aficionado normalized cigar use in society, while at the same time corroborating ideas of the cigar being a powerful, masculine object. On the other end of the spectrum, cigar advertisements would capitalize upon this image, and work to perpetuate the air of success surrounding the cigar. In a 1996 interview, actress Kim Cattrall (a star of the cosmopolitan television series Sex and the City) was quoted as saying “[the cigar] is a very large phallic symbol that men like to play with – and women like to watch them. I understand the attraction. Just holding one, there’s a sort of power there.”[22] Even in name and function, the cigar radiates excess, and its identity in American society has led to its position as a symbol of wealth, success, and indulgence.


[1] David Savona, “A Brief History of the Cigar Industry,” Cigar Aficionado (2012): 1-2. (accessed December 3, 2014).

[2] Gordon Mott, “An Interview with Marvin R. Shanken,” Cigar Aficionado (2012): 1-3. (accessed December 3, 2014).

[3] David Burns, “Cigar Smoking: Overview and Current State of the Science,” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 9 (1998): 1-20. (accessed December 3, 2014).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gordon Mott, “An Interview with Marvin R. Shanken.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Slade, “Marketing and Promoting of Cigars,” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 9 (1998): 195-217. (accessed December 3, 2014).

[9] Ibid.

[10] David Shaw, “The World According to Arnold,” Cigar Aficionado (1996): 1-3. (accessed December 3, 2014).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ken Shouler, “Lord of the Rink,” Cigar Aficionado (1997): 1-3. (accessed December 3, 2014).

[13] David Burns, “Cigar Smoking: Overview and Current State of the Science.”

[14] Ken Shouler, “Lord of the Rink.”

[15] John Slade, “Marketing and Promoting of Cigars.”

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Gordon Mott, “An Interview with Marvin R. Shanken.”

[19] John Slade, “Marketing and Promoting of Cigars.”

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.


Burns, David M. “Cigar Smoking: Overview and Current State of the Science.” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 9 (February 1998): 1-20. (accessed December 3, 2014).

Mott, Gordon. “An Interview with Marvin R. Shanken.” Cigar Aficionado, October 2012. (accessed December 3, 2014).

Savona, David. “A Brief History of the Cigar Industry.” Cigar Aficionado, October 2012. (accessed December 3, 2014).

Shaw, David. “The World According to Arnold.” Cigar Aficionado, August 1996. (accessed December 3, 2014).

Shouler, Ken. “Lord of the Rink.” Cigar Aficionado, April 1997. (accessed December 3, 2014).

Slade, John. “Marketing and Promoting of Cigars.” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 9 (February 1998): 195-217. (accessed December 3, 2014).

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