Cigar Etiquette and Traditions

Jeff Miller
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The Guide to Smoking Etiquette

Cigars may seem simple to many people, but there are rules to cigar smoking, and many of them are commonly broken. Cigars are becoming more popular every day, and while some may have tried them at home, it’s not always safe to smoke them in public, particularly if there are open flames from lighting them. The good news is that there is a lot of information out there on cigar smoking etiquette that will help you know what you’re doing and what’s expected of you.

While you probably don’t want to follow all the rules 100%, it’s nice to know them in case you’re ever in a formal setting or in unfamiliar territory. Here are 6 tips to help you avoid looking like a cigar rookie.

At the Lounge

If you are invited to a cigar lounge and are unsure of the rules that you should follow, here is a list of etiquette tips to help you out:

Respect the fact that they are an adult establishment and no children are allowed on the premises. If you are asked if you want a drink, ask for a seltzer (sparkling) or iced water. For the most part, you won’t drink alcohol in a cigar lounge unless you return to the bar to order a drink. To avoid confusion, remember to stick to your drink. You don’t want to end up with your créme brûlée with a brandy flambe. If you know you’re going to hang out for a while, and it’s appropriate to do so, open up your liquids in the refrigerator. Some members pick up their membership cards; others just know that they belong there from frequenting the tobacco shop. If you are uncomfortable or have a question you are embarrassed to ask, don’t be afraid to ask the members. If you leave a camera or car keys unattended, your items might not be there when you get back.

Avoid Stubbing Out a Cigar

This is a long standing tradition. The origin of the practice has been lost to time. But it makes sense as to why it has continued for so long.

It is considered very bad form to put out a cigar in the ashtray of someone else’s. This is because genuine Cuban cigars are expensive, and wasting one on a casual acquaintance would not sit well with many people. It would be both a waste of money and a waste of class.

It’s easy to avoid doing this. Just be sure to honor the person you’re smoking with by putting out the cigar in the ashtray it was lit in.

Never Smoke in the Humidor

Rule number one: never smoke in the humidor! This is a cardinal rule, and it is one you should always remember. As long as you follow this rule, you will be able to enjoy your cigars for a long period of time. Cigar experts often say that cigars should last a few months to a year after you purchase them.

Cigars need a specific level of humidity to maintain their freshness. The ideal conditions are 70 percent humidity and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal level of humidity is rare for humidors, especially those built at home. Cigars stored at high humidity will eventually suffer from molding, and cigars stored at low humidity will be drier and prone to breaking or peeling.

When you smoke a cigar, you add moisture. Humidors have several features to help balance the moisture in the environment. A humidifier helps add moisture to the environment. This helps to control humidity and prevents harm to the delicate cigar. Each cigar also has its own hygrometer on a band that is used to check the relative humidity.

Lighting Someone’s Cigar

The first step to properly enjoying a cigar is showing up prepared. This means you should always have a lighter with you. Don’t be the person who shows up with a lighter an hour too late only to light their cigar with the lighter from your car. It’s not the best first impression you can make.

The lighter is the single most important item you should arrive with since it’s a sign of respect. The proper way to light somebody’s cigar is to hold the cigar about an inch away from the flame, and then rotate it about a quarter circle from the dealer’s perspective. The cigar should burn evenly, and the head should light evenly. Make sure to extinguish the cigar properly, and in the most gentlemanly manner possible. If you don’t do this, it’s like spitting in your mother-in-law’s face; it’s wrong and offensive, and you probably won’t get invited back.

Respect A Fellow Smoker’s Choice in Cigars

Cigars have become a popular hobby because they’re available in so many varieties. Cigar connoisseurs often have a vast collection of cigars in their own humidor (or a communal humidor at their local cigar-friendly bar) and actively seek out new cigars that others will enjoy. It’s safe to say that most cigar smokers are cigar sharing enthusiasts.

But there are good and bad ways to share a cigar. The truth is that nobody cares about the type of cigar that you smoke on a daily basis. But if you’re going to pass around an expensive premium cigar that you’ve been saving, it’s best to know the proper etiquette. Here are the rules to drive the decision of how you’d like to share your cigars with friends.

The first, and most important, rule is to ask permission if you’re going to share with someone. There’s nothing worse than opening up your humidor to take out a cigar that costs more than dinner for two, and have the owner of those cigars glare at you.

Cutter

The cutter is a unique cigar accessory that can be used to cut the cap of the cigar or to clip off the end. It is not necessary to own a cutter to enjoy a cigar but it is helpful, especially for the inexperienced smoker who may try to use a guillotine or utility knife. Here are some common do’s and don’ts for using cutters.

Do:

Know how to use the cutter. Using the wrong end can result in cutting fingers instead of the cap! A cigar cutter should be held like a pen, and the end of the cutter should be placed between the index finger and thumb. The cap/end should be placed against the blade of the cutter and then it should be squeezed until the blade cuts though the cigar cap.

Cut the cap? Put the smoke to your lips and let your tongue act as a vehicle to bring the smoke into your mouth. Don’t inhale! You are smoking it, not blowing on it.

Don’t:

Carry two cutters at the same time. It is poor etiquette to offer a cutter to someone until the cigar is lit.

Use a warning when you are about to cut the cap. The cutter should be placed lightly against the cigar cap with a squeeze to cut the cap, not a warning squeeze.

Clean Up After Yourself

If you are going to enjoy your cigar and drink at the same time, here’s a tip. Cigars not only are made of tobacco, but also are covered in tiny pieces of tobacco that fall off. There’s probably not much danger to other people from these floating tobacco pieces, but if you’re the one holding the cigar, you’ll soon be covered in them.

The best way to keep from being covered with falling tobacco is to hold the cigar correctly. Between your forefinger and middle finger, hold the cigar so that you can pinch the end. The top hand should be holding the cigar upright and the bottom hand can go for a drink. You may want to keep a glass in your bottom hand, or at least on the table, but when you’re ready to take a drink, you can pinch the end of the cigar. That will keep the tobacco from falling to the floor, the table, or the bottom of your shirt or pants.

Do not be ashamed to wipe up the spilled beer or wine with a napkin or paper towel. Sopping it up with a wet cloth or sponge may leave a wet ring on the table and some of the food may be dirty anyway.

Small changes like this will make an enormous difference in your enjoyment of the cigar.

Respect the Lounge’s Rules

Some cigars are designed to be smoked quickly. Others, however, need to be savored. If you’re not sure how to smoke a certain cigar, ask another guest. The lounge may discourage conversations, such as business deals or press. All cigars are property of the establishment, so guests and staff may not be allowed to smoke. Many lounges will have high-end wheelhouses, humidors, and apparel. Treat these items with respect. Don’t slop your cigar ash into the ashtrays (remember: cigar inserts can’t be thrown in the trash), and don’t attempt to cut, smoke, or vandalize the cigars. An unopened box, a cigar cutter, and a lighter are all provided to you. Some lounges will even have a “safety lock” you can use to secure your cigar while you go grab a drink.

Don’t Be a Mooch

If you are smoking a cigar with a group of other people, it is important that you always have an ashtray in front of you where the cigar can be placed, especially when you are finished with it. It would also be a nice gesture to show appreciation (and your manners) if you offer the ashtray around the table.

The only acceptable time when it is acceptable for you to place your cigar on another person’s plate or a table is if no ashtray is available. Even in that situation, it’s still a great idea to offer an ashtray to the table after the cigar has been removed from the plate.

Finally, if you know that you are going to have a long, drawn out cigar session, try to remember to bring a couple of ashtrays for yourself and your cigar smoking buddies.

Avoid Sloppy Habits

We all know that smoking a cigar is a very special occasion and as long as everyone’s competent and mature, it can be a very enjoyable one. But what happens if your cigar prodigy is not up to your high standards and is causing a scene with their cigar etiquette?

First, think about the reputation of your cigar club and make sure that your not embarrassing yourself or your friends. Then think about the reputation of cigar clubs in general. Cigars are becoming very popular throughout the world, but unfortunately are still frowned upon by some social circles. The more negative stereotypes that we can avoid, the better.

I’m not talking about the negative stereotypes that society has put on cigars. The rampant lies that anti-smoking groups have spread about cigars… Make sure your behaviors don’t contribute to bad impressions. Rules of cigar etiquette have evolved over the centuries to be as civilized as anything else. They’re not always followed, but they’re there to be followed. So, your bad behaviors are harming the reputation of the entire hobby.

It’s time to dust off those cigars and start showing a little class.

In Public

Once you’ve settled on the different styles of cigars within your price range, you’ll need to figure out where you’re going to smoke them. When you’re smoking a cigar with alcohol, it’s polite to offer your cigar to the person sitting next to you. Also, never burn a cigar (or anything else for that matter) without an ashtray. It’s considered bad etiquette to hold a cigar by the tip to keep it lit because you might burn your fingers.

Finally, although it’s not uncommon for a cigar smoker to say “no thanks” after another person offers a cigar, you shouldn’t ask someone who is smoking a cigar whether he’ll share. If he wants to offer you one, he will.

In private businesses, cigar smoking is generally frowned upon, but more and more places are becoming more lenient toward cigars and smokers. So, ask before you light up. Don’t assume it’s okay. Even though it’s becoming more acceptable, cigar connoisseurs still go out of their way to avoid cigar smoke in bars, restaurants, and other public places.

Should I Remove the Cigar Band?

Some people advocate removing the cigar band for aesthetic reasons while others do so to enhance the flavor of the cigar, allowing them to savor the true flavor of the leaf. Whether you’re a follower of the band or would rather tuck it under the cigar, you should know if the band is made of tobacco. In some instances, the cigar wrapper is made from tobacco, thereby leaving the band as the last part of the cigar to be consumed. This makes for a very confusing situation.

If you remove the band and realize that the cigar is made from tobacco, then you’ll need to ask for a new one. But if it’s band is made of some other material, such as plastic or other paper materials, then you won’t need to ask for a new one. That’s because the cigar is not part of the tobacco leaf and won’t touch your lips.

If you’re not sure what type of material constitutes the band, then ask the waiter or bartender how many leaves make up the cigar. If you’re still unsure, then the safe bet is to remove the band, regardless of the material.

Prepare Your Cigar the Right Way

Cigars come with their own set of high-end traditions and etiquette. Though there are some common guiding principles, each smoking experience is unique depending on the social situation. The best way to better understand the etiquette surrounding cigars is to become a more knowledgeable cigar smoker. The following is a list of tips to better prepare your cigar for smoking and to ensure you get the most out of your next cigar experience.

Toasting the Foot

It is a common practice among cigar smokers to toast the foot of a cigar before lighting it. There are several different opinions as to the origin of this tradition, with some rumors dating back to the 1900s, while others describing its initiation in the early 1900s. The majority of those well-versed in cigar lore and culture believe that the tradition originated among Cuban cigar smokers, who would pass the time before lighting a recently rolled cigar by smelling the tobacco leaves.

Smoking and enjoying a fine cigar is about more than simply igniting it and taking a few puffs. Cigars accompany social interactions like business meetings and family dinners, and in some countries, they are consumed as part of a ritualistic engagement or wedding ceremony.

Slow Down

While it’s always important to keep within your budget, cigar enthusiasts usually take pleasure in the art of smoking cigars. Purchasing and smoking cigars should be an experience that’s intended to be enjoyed. Slow down. Take your time, relax, and savor it.

If your cigar has been sitting in your humidor for some time, it may have a tight wrapper that’s very difficult to cut. If you’ve noticed that some of your cigars are becoming a bit dry, try these tips for restoring them.

Cigars, like anything else, are made in different parts of the world with differing characteristics, and quality should vary from brand to brand. If you’re trying a new cigar, approach it like you would a new type of beer. Don’t judge it by the price or how popular it is with your friends. Look for something that’s medium-bodied with a dark wrapper and let it sit in your humidor for a week so that the flavor develops even more.

Chain Smoking

Have you ever been around someone who chain smokes? Maybe it was your boss or an old relative. They really can make their presence known even when they're not around…just take a whiff of someone's shirt or jacket and you'll know that there was a cigar smoker around that person at some point in the day.

So what causes that horrible smell? It's actually a reaction between the smoke of the cigar and the oils in your skin. What's interesting is that the oils in the skin of your lips provide a stronger scent than that of your face. So if you don't want to stand out as a chain smoker, keep the cigar in your teeth as much as possible.

It's also contagious, too. The greatest risk is to young children, who aren't well versed in proper cigar etiquette. It's a common myth that an infant can get lung cancer. The real danger is to the soft tissue from second-hand smoke. This study demonstrates the effects of smoke exposure on an infant.

So, how do we move past this social faux pas? A good place to start is with the most recent cigar etiquette guidelines. This blog gives some great tips to respecting your fellow cigar smokers.

Final Thoughts

The cigar is a symbol of good fortune and celebration. So make sure you use them wisely with good etiquette to help create an enjoyable experience for yourself and everyone around you.

In conjunction with the tips listed above, here’s a helpful infographic for cigar etiquette.