A wispy silk summer dress, red lips and bamboo stilt stacked wedges- a look far too foreign for a tobacco lined cigar lounge bubbling over with testosterone. Dagger eyed, I was sex on a stick as far as they were concerned. Clearly bombarding their space of refuge and all things ‘cerveza y chicharrones,’ I remained unmoved by the buttoned up men’s furtive glances. With women accounting for only 1% of all cigar smokers in the U.S., and far less in the Dominican Republic, the site of the world’s largest premium cigar manufacturer, I realized that my smoke lounge takeover, in the name of research, might be met with animalistic behavior.
As women, our failure to light up doesn’t singularly stem from being health conscious consumers, albeit the hazards for cigar smoking aficionados double that of cigarette smokers due to the amount of tobacco tightly packed into a stogie. It seems that the prevalence of unspoken and easily digested patriarchal infused cultural constructs have gobbled us up once again.
“Women tend to prefer smaller cigars. It just depends on the time that they want to spend smoking. I think that men tend to be more relaxed, spending hours here in cigar lounges. Women enjoy them as well, but it’s just not in the custom for them to sit and smoke for hours,” admits Ruben Gonzalez, the Commercial Director of La Romana Cigar Factory in the Dominican Republic. While women account for a sizable amount of the factory workers that I viewed while touring La Tabacalera, they seemed far detached from the heavily marketed luxurious lifestyle of male dominated ‘secret society’ lounges and yacht loving gentlemen waving phatties. Outfitted in masks to reduce tobacco inhalation, while proud of their craftsmanship, the ladies that I spoke with politely declined on-camera interviews. They steered clear of contributing any ‘non-brochure approved’ commentary, aside from expressing gratitude of having a stable job with decent work hours. Careful to not dismiss their silence as a lack of awareness, their body language made it apparent that the factory wasn’t the setting to discuss gender inequalities.
More vocal cigar smokers like Rihanna, Rosario Dawson, Sharon Stone and Madonna, embrace the overall motif of liberation and empowerment that most women express when smoking. “Because the behavior of women smoking cigars is seen by society as unconventional there is always conversation. Women get one of two responses from men- they’re either turned on or repulsed by it, ” says Liliana Cortez, a student and casual cigar smoker.
While men may be undecided, the cigar industry has decided to cash in on the “new” niche market. Cuba’s illustrious Romeo y Julieta brand recently created “the Julieta,” a lean 4-inch cigar dedicated to the female consumer. She-EO, an Atlanta based company owned by two black female entrepreneurs, also caters to the female connoisseur by creating lifestyle products and exclusive cigar retreats for the ‘sophisticated lady smoker.’
Being educated on the art of cigar making at La Tabacalera de Garcia in the suburbs of La Romana was invaluable. A company responsible for 300 blends of over 50 of the world’s top cigar brands, including Montecristo, H. Upmann and Romeo y Julieta, I was given a lengthy tutorial on how to properly sort, blend, cut (¼ of an inch below the head) and smoke (first-timers should never inhale) a cigar. Honestly, after one strong pull of the Playboy cigar, my parting gift, it was game over for me! But, if I ever find myself in a lux Caribbean cigar bar again, I’ll be able to intelligently “boss up” and hold my own amongst the wolf pack.
Chie Davis is a TV host, producer and writer that resides in Los Angeles. She’s contributed to media outlets including CBS, The Huffington Post, Brooklyn Review, WZBN-TV and is the co-creator of Ocean Style TV, a travel & lifestyle show with a Caribbean essence. She loves non-stop flights and non-stop adventure.