The New Cigar Capital Of The World
Recently I have been thinking about this interesting juxtaposition: As citizens of the most prosperous nation to ever exist, the way we choose to spend our money effects the lives of real people all over the world. Even a niche subculture like ours, the premium cigar community in America, can have an enormous impact on the lives of people and families in much less prosperous places. American cigar smokers have recognized the quality and craftsmanship of premium Nicaraguan cigars, and as a result, an enormous boom in demand has created tens of thousands of jobs, allowing hardworking men and women to earn an honest living and support their families.
This boom in demand came on fast. So fast that even some of the biggest names in the industry, those who have benefited the most, have begun to question whether the current trajectory is sustainable. Is the obsession with Nicaraguan cigars spreading too quickly? Will quality begin to suffer as demand continues to skyrocket?
Thanks to the American market, and its trend toward richer, fuller bodied cigars, Nicaragua has, for the last five years running, exported more premium cigars to the United States than any nation, overtaking the D.R. who held the title for years prior. Over the last decade, the number of cigar factories in Esteli, the hub city of the cigar industry in Nicaragua, has doubled from 40 in 2010 to 80 in 2020, directly sustaining an estimated 45,000 jobs. Padron, Oliva, My Father, San Cristobal, Drew Estate, Rocky Patel and Perdomo are just a few of the companies with huge factories in Nicaragua, employing thousands of people. It is these farmers, rollers and factory workers that you are supporting when you buy premium Nicaraguan cigars. This is something I believe I can feel good about as I puff away on my Padron 3000 Maduro.
However, if you’re thinking that rate of growth seems alarmingly fast, perhaps even unsustainable, you would not be alone. AJ Fernandez himself, whose operation has an enormous footprint in Nicaragua, has been worrying about where this trend is taking us. While he clearly has benefited in the short term from the massive boom in demand for Nicaraguan tobacco, he also warns of a time when quality might begin to decline as manufacturers spread their resources as thin as they possibly can in a desperate effort to keep up with greater and greater demand.
Rocky Patel has expressed similar concerns, specifically with regard to the number of skilled rollers. When speaking about the challenges of operating his Nicaraguan factory, TAVICUSA, Rocky has said that the most difficult piece of the puzzle in 2022, with demand for Nicaraguan cigars at record levels, is finding and keeping skilled rollers. New companies are building new factories, and good rollers are being wooed from one company to the next. Consistency is something that cigar aficionados value in their favorite brands, but it may become more and more difficult to achieve consistency across time as the Nicaraguan cigar industry continues to stretch and grow.
I am of the opinion that it is our job, the American cigar smokers, to continue to support and smoke our favorite brands at our local shops, and to have faith that the manufacturers can all work together to keep quality tobacco growing in the fields, and consistent, delicious cigars rolling off of the factory floors without allowing greed or shortsightedness to bring the whole party to an end.
The United States now accounts for 95% of the tobacco exported from Nicaragua, according to the economic data archive Central America Data. This means that cigar smokers in America support the livelihood of tens of thousands of men and women in Nicaragua. Despite what your doctor might have said, there is at least this reason to feel good about, and take pride in, smoking premium cigars.