An In-Depth Analysis
Cigars have long held an aura of sophistication and luxury, seen as an indulgence for celebrations or a mark of prestige. However, just as with other tobacco products, cigars also carry health risks from their tobacco, nicotine, and other contents. As tastes, laws, health information, and more change over time, so do cigar smoking trends. We have prepared an in-depth examination of the shifts and patterns around cigar consumption.
A Brief History of Cigars
While cigarettes surged in popularity in the late 19th and 20th centuries, cigars have a longer-standing history. Early forms of cigars are believed to date back as far as the 9th century in the Mayan civilization, where tobacco was rolled up in plant leaves or corn husks. Tobacco use spread across other American civilizations like the Aztecs. When Christopher Columbus first encountered indigenous peoples in the Caribbean smoking tobacco, he brought leaves back to Europe, introducing the concept across the Atlantic.
Cigar manufacturing originated in Spain, with Seville becoming the early epicenter of European cigar making starting in the late 1400s. Over the next centuries, cigar smoking grew popular across Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries. Many early factories and brands emerged in Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal. This expansion of cigar making and appreciation cemented it as a luxury good associated with affluence.
In the 19th century, cigar smoking saw a special boost in popularity following the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal. Victory over the French guaranteed Spain’s continued control of Cuban tobacco plantations, securing top tobacco leaves for its signature cigars. The Cuban cigar in particular remains iconic today. Later in the 19th century, cigar smoking permeated popular culture and politics, with famous figures like Sigmund Freud, Winston Churchill, and Ulysses S. Grant known for their love of cigars. This history and prominence contributed to the cigar’s refined image.
Current Statistics on Cigar Smoking
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s latest compiled data, an estimated 12.3 million people in the US currently smoke cigars some days or every day. This amounts to 4.5% of the adult population smoking cigars. Around 11.7% of men currently smoke cigars, much higher than the 1.3% rate among women.
Comparing cigars to other tobacco products, cigars have the lowest overall smoking rate. By contrast, 14% smoke cigarettes, and 19% use e-cigarettes based on 2022 CDC statistics. However, while cigarette smoking has declined consistently for decades, cigar smoking has fluctuated up and down slightly in recent years without a clear downward trajectory. From 2011 to 2022, cigar smoking rates moved from 5.2% down to 3.6% in 2015 before rising again to today’s 4.5%. So steeper declines seen with cigarettes have not emerged yet within the cigar market.
Over 193 million cigars were sold in the US in 2021 per CDC records. While total unit sales have decreased from 247 million in 2015, higher sales of premium and super-premium cigars compared to machine-made mass-market cigars have kept overall sales value steady. This points towards a shift favoring pricier high-end cigars among cigar smokers, aligning with the luxury cigar image.
Demographics and Psychographics of Cigar Smokers
Multiple studies over the years have created a profile of the average cigar smoker compared to non-smokers or cigarette smokers specifically.
Key demographics include:
- Gender: Overwhelmingly male, with over 10 times as many male cigar smokers as female.
- Age: Typically middle-aged or older, with nearly 75% of cigar smokers 45 or older. The 45-64 range hits peak cigar smoking rates.
- Income: Wealthier on average, with 33% making over $100k annually versus 21% of non-cigar smokers.
- Education: More likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher education.
- Region: Cigar smoking is currently highest in the South and Midwest compared to the Northeast and Western states.
This data corroborates the depiction of cigars having an older, more educated, more affluent, and more masculine consumer base compared to peer tobacco products. While historically associated with aristocrats or elites, it skews more towards the upper-middle class today.
Psychographic segmentation also assists marketing by examining consumer attitudes, values, and interests beyond strict demographics. For premium cigar smokers specifically, typical psycho-behaviors include:
- Strive for self-perceived sophistication or refined tastes
- Appreciate the tradition, history, and lore behind cigars
- Tend to identify as connoisseurs and purists with cigars
- Favor complex flavors, aromas, and sensory experiences
- View cigars as part of celebratory moments or self-reward
These factors relate strongly to cigars’ luxury cachet. Brands able to deliver on tradition, complexity, and indulgence tend to perform best with cigar connoisseurs.
Shifting Trends Among New Cigar Smokers
While the above profiles the average existing cigar smoker today, emerging trends point towards shifts amongst newer smokers taking up cigars since around 2015. Key trends include:
Rise of Millennial and Gen Z New Smokers
Historically an older adult product, cigars now see over 15% of male smokers ages 18-29 according to a 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Millennials coming of age in an era valorizing premium products aspired towards sophisticated luxury items early. Meanwhile, some Gen Z consumers view cigars as vintage and undiscovered compared to mainstream e-cigarettes or vapes. This expanding appeal among younger generations points to cigars potentially gaining a following beyond older traditionalists going forward.
Growing Minority Demographics
Cigar smoking rates amongst non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic individuals now nearly rival or top the rate among non-Hispanic white consumers, marking a demographic shift from decades past. This change comes from cigars’ associations with upward mobility, luxury, and cultured living attracting more young minorities in recent years. As multicultural marketing expands across industries, cigar makers may further target previously underserved communities as well.
Rise of Female Smokers
While still substantially trailing men, women picking up cigar smoking hit record numbers in recent CDC surveys. Flavored products helped initially attract more women, though boutique cigars’ positioning towards affluence, empowerment, or relaxation also expanded appeal. As societal gender roles modernize with women inhabiting more spaces historically deemed masculine, cigar’s symbolic cultured masculinity becomes accessible. Brands like Daughters of the Wind emphasize female trailblazing and sophistication in marketing directly toward women as an emerging consumer segment.
Growing Sales Among LGBTQ Smokers
Over 7% of LGBT Americans now identify as cigar smokers compared to under 5% on average nationally. Higher rates of disposable income and aspirations towards luxury and sophistication appeal within LGBTQ communities. Brands like Davidoff partner with LGBTQ causes or LGBTQ cigar lounges open to capitalize on the growth potential of this audience.
Declining Stigma Against Cigars
For much of the 20th century tobacco use faced public stigma amid growing health warnings. However, lapsing memories of historic anti-smoking campaigns and modern internet culture repositioning cigars as vintage or glamorous fueled a slight lessening of negative associations. New smokers increasingly see cigars as celebrations displaying cultured refinement rather than strictly dangerous health threats. Favorable depictions of cigar smoking in popular TV shows like Mad Men arguably assisted this gradual destigmatization.
Premium and Super-Premium Brand Growth
Though total cigar unit sales dropped between 2008 and 2021, dollar sales within premium hand-rolled cigars expanded from $2.7 billion to $3.7 billion. Super-premium elite cigar sales also jumped from $1.3 billion to $2 billion during the same period. Together, mass-market cigar smokers switching to more upscale products and new younger smokers favoring top brands bolstered this high-end market growth. As other tobacco segments decline, premium cigars’ positioning as an extravagant indulgence preserves marketability.
Flavored Product Bans – Industry Impacts
In 2020, federal authorities banned flavored cigarette sales except menthol, while also prohibiting flavors like fruit or candy in combustible cigars. This aimed to curb teen tobacco access by restricting starter kid-friendly products. However, premium cigars received an exemption after heavy industry lobbying. So flavors remain legal in high-end cigars, arguing connoisseurs specifically seek flavor complexity. Since the ban, mass-market flavored cigar sales unsurprisingly plummeted by over 50%. However, this potentially funneled more former youth smokers towards premium cigars without flavor regulations. It also opened opportunities for non-flavored value brands to gain market share. While public health officials hope reducing flavors ultimately lowers cigar smoking rates entirely, the premium cigar industry weathered the regulatory changes well through its loophole.
Impacts of COVID-19 on Cigar Smoking and Sales
The COVID-19 pandemic unpredictably fueled a spike in cigar smoking rates and sales. While cigar bars or lounges faced restrictions, home confinement living drove increased cigar purchases for stress relief or leisure. Whether vices like alcohol, cannabis, or tobacco, many “sin” industries saw upswings during lockdowns. For cigar sellers, surging e-commerce transactions also helped capture confined prospective smokers. Premium cigar sales volumes jumped 14% during 2020-2021 compared to years prior. As life normalizes post-lockdowns in 2022-2023, the cigar industry now aims to maintain its expanded pandemic customer base rather than see declines again. If new millennial or female smokers developed a habitual cigar smoking preference through 2020-2021, this could prevent dropping back to pre-COVID trends.
Ongoing Legal and Regulatory Developments
Like other tobacco offerings, cigars remain controversial from a public health policy perspective despite their storied history. While promoted by industry groups as less risky than cigarettes, cigars inarguably still contain tobacco, nicotine, and other carcinogens. Their smoke also produces secondhand exposure for non-smoking patrons or household members. However, defining and regulating cigars distinct from self-rolling pipe tobacco or e-cigarette products creates legal complexities. As regulators weigh consumer choice versus population harm reduction strategies, key developments include:
No National Bans Yet – Despite calls by groups like the American Lung Association for outright national cigar sales or smoking bans, legislative proposals made little headway so far. With cigars not impacting youth as much as cigarettes or vapes, political will remains lacking to outlaw legal cigar smoking by consenting adults. However future cigar restrictions remain possible depending on wider industry regulation directions.
State/City Bans – Where federal action stalled, state and municipal governments enacted more localized cigar smoking limits, especially targeting flavored cigars to curb youth access. Massachusetts banned flavored tobacco products including cigars in 2019. Los Angeles recently prohibited smoking in many public areas which could reduce on-site cigar lounge options. However, lounges with existing designated smoking sections or ventilation systems maintain exemptions for now.
No Advertising Restrictions Yet – For now, cigars also lack advertising limits applied to cigarettes since 1970. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sued several e-cigarette manufacturers in 2022 around marketing deemed targeting youth. If these cases succeed, they could establish frameworks leading to future cigar ad restrictions potentially. But as 225 million adults see cigar ads annually, no current promotional prohibitions curb awareness.
The Future of Premium Cigars
Compared to cigarettes which emerged as an inexpensive highly addictive mass-market product, premium cigars’ image cultivates loyal habits less around compulsiveness than as a voluntary recreational hobby or marker of cultural sophistication. As cigarette smoking declines into the single digits for US adults while vaping and oral products battle regulation, the proudly archaic cigar endures as a treasured vice sealing business deals, marking life milestones, or cultivating connoisseurship as a historical luxury art form centered on sensorial experience blended with mystique.
This nostalgic appeal feels increasingly alluring to younger smokers fatigued by hyper-digital modern consumerism and seeking tangible indulgence. Yet premium cigar smokers may gradually age without sufficient youth converts to fully replace them. Still, for now, bespoke cigars hold the mystique and desirability previous generations took for granted during peak cigarette ubiquity. Perhaps what cigars lose in volume over coming decades amongst increasingly health-conscious populations, they will offset through burgeoning global upper-middle class markets and continued premium brand profitability catering to aspirational sensory pleasures against modern homogeneity. Straddling vice and virtue, cigars consistently demonstrate resilience enabling ongoing endurance as both legends carved into history, and persistent forbidden allure challenge timeless human inclinations towards temptation.