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The big smoke

Cigar aficionados light up their lives.

In an era where cigarette smoking is in decline for its health effects and faces increasing social censure, there has been quiet growth in the popularity of the cigar.

The theory goes that cigars are about more than just smoking. Sure, aficionados will praise the complex taste of the world's best cigars, which are made around the Caribbean. But it's also about how and where you smoke them.

"For me, a cigar is not an everyday thing, it's something I spoil myself with," says Spiro Ellul, a Melbourne collector and cigar smoker.

"I spend up to two hours smoking one, with a nice glass of red or a port and I'll drift off and reflect on my daily life and organise my thoughts."

Ellul spent about $15,000 last year collecting cigars. He has about 50 boxes in storage. True aficionados leave cigars to age for at least a year in a controlled humidity of between 65 and 75 per cent.

Ellul, like many, is a devotee of Cuban cigars. One of his favourites is the 2004 limited edition Cohiba Sublime, which, he says, have a robust flavour, with "notes of cocoa and leather". These cost about $1300 for a box of 25.

Norman Stein, the owner of Sydney cigar retailer Bogarts, says cigar smoking is increasing in popularity and that the average age of buyers is getting lower.

"It used to be considered something just for wealthy executives, but now people are equating it with a relaxed lifestyle, whether it be something they associate with a game of golf, or cards, or sitting back and celebrating or contemplating a promotion or the birth of a child," he says.

Danny Maroudas, the store manager of Melbourne's Alexanders Cigar Merchants, says the most sought-after Cuban brands are Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas and Hoyo De Monterrey. Among Dominican cigars, Davidoff, Dunhill, Cuesta Rey and Arturo Fuente are popular, as is the Nicaraguan brand Padron.

Maroudas says because cigars need to be matured and can be kept for years, they make good collectibles.

He says cigars made by expatriate Cubans - especially Dunhill and Davidoff - before they left Cuba are highly collectible, fetching up to $500 a stick. A whole box in mint condition can be worth up to $10,000.

Wal Baranow, who runs the Cigar Society of Australia and an eponymous cigar retail outlet with an attached cigar "lounge", rates the Dominican cigar La Gloria as his favourite. "Smoking one makes me think of a huge cast-iron pot on the stove filled with red, rich ripe berries which are stewing away for hours. Then add some rich dark chocolate and you have the taste."

Baranow says the best way to taste a cigar is to swirl the smoke around your mouth, rather than inhale. "Cigar smoking is not about the effect of the tobacco but the taste." It's just one reason, he says, cigarette and cigar smoking are so different.

Baranow maintains few cigar smokers crave cigars, with few smoking more than one a day and many less than that. "A cigar smoker never hangs out for his next cigar. He looks forward to it and then he savours it instead of puffing away for a quick fix."

There is no such brand as a Havana cigar. Habanos is the name of the government company that controls all production of all Cuban cigars.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald