Tag Archives: Tobacco

Cuba and the future

15 Jan

I smoke Cigars. The very best cigar I have ever smoked was Cuban. So were several of the very worst, and I started with Muriel Air Tips. I have an interest in what happens to Cuba and to the embargo on Cuban goods in the United States.

I have observed for a while now what I think is the beginnings of a campaign to lift that embargo soon after the occasion of Fidel Castro’s death. Ever since Fidel stepped down from official power in favor of his brother Raul, I have run into assertions in the mainstream media that “Raul is not the hardliner that Fidel was”. This is so much eyewash. Raul has, essentially forever, been his brother’s designated leg-breaker and executioner. Somebody wants to pave the way for a “Cuba isn’t as bad as it was, why are they still under an embargo” movement. I’m not against it, mind. The embargo is silly. If Cuba is a threat, they we should invade. If Cuba is simply your garden variety Communist pesthole, then the embargo serves no purpose other than to garner the votes of Cuban-Americans, who (with good reason) detest the Cuban government and might vote against anybody that moves to end the embargo.
I have no idea if this groundwork I see being laid will succeed. The Cuban government, the opinions of lefty intellectuals notwithstanding, has about the same degree of legitimacy as a modern day pretender to the Stuart throne. But so does the government of mainland China. What I am prepared to state categorically is that the end of the embargo, if it does not accompany a radical change on the Cuban government, will cause the quality of Cuban cigars to hit rock bottom and stay there for five to ten years.
Command and control economies have a long history of quality control problems, and Cuba’s is no exception. Even genuine Cuban cigars (and there are lots of fakes out there) from top brands are notorious for being hit-or-miss. ¬†Furthermore, reports inside the industry are that for years, even decades, the Cuban government (like all governments) has been skimping on maintenance costs, with predictable results. Should the embargo fall it is inevitable that the Cuban government will try to expand its most valuable export into the U.S. market. Since they are already selling all the cigars they can make, this will mean that they will be trying to ramp up production of a product that takes craftsmanship to produce, with facilities that have been neglected. This is not a recipe for success.
Even assuming that the Cuban government realizes its problem now, and is already setting up deals for investment money to remediate past deficiencies and for future expansion, the immediate result of the embargo’s fall will be poor quality and higher prices. It takes three years to go from seedling to properly aged leaf. The Cuban government has no extra funds and won’t before there is a real prospect of expansion in the very near future. Communist governments are notoriously bad loan risks. Very probably there will be no outside money forthcoming before the actual fall of the embargo, and that assumes that the Cuban government knows that they have a problem. If they don’t, then expect further delays.
If money poured into the Cuban cigar business tomorrow, and was properly directed, it wouldn’t even start to have a positive effect on the number of good cigars produced for three years, because that is how long it takes for the crop to grow and age. Cigars made with young leaf simply are not worth smoking. Even with a crash course of investment in infrastructure and so forth, it would almost certainly take at least two years before effects would be felt in the quality of tobacco being harvested. Add that to the three year cycle and you get half a decade, minimum.
If trade is opened up with Cuba, I will look forward to greatly expanding my acquaintance with Cuban cigars. In ten years, or when I hear that things have settled down. Before that I expect I would get more pleasure from lighting a block of shoe polish.

I smoke.

8 Jan

I smoke.

I started the summer I graduated from High School. The ubiquitous anti-smoking “Public Service” television adds of the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association (a whole bunch of tumors and disembodied lungs, holding meetings … it’s quite a picture) had irritated me for years. I don’t like being preached at unless I chose the preacher. So sue me. One day I decided that if all those buttinskis were against smoking, I needed to try it. I had scant interest in cigarettes, but my maternal grandfather had smoked cigars – Muriel Air Tips – and so I went out and bought a box.
I liked them.
I moved from el-cheapo cigars (and Muriel Air Tips are about as cheap as they come) to a dime-store pipe and Captain Black Gold pipe tobacco before the summer was over. When I went to Johns Hopkins later that year I was a confirmed pipe smoker. I was delighted to discover Faders Tobacconists in downtown Baltimore, and my taste in tobacco got better.
While I was primarily a pipe smoker for years, I did smoke the occasional cigar, and the better the cigar the better I liked them. When the cigar boom of the 1990’s began I was, so to speak, in on the ground floor already. I shifted over to cigars almost exclusively.
While this was going on the anti-tobacco Crusade went on apace. And as cigars became popular again for the first time in decades and curious thing happened. The Crusaders began to attack cigars with the same vitriol that they had previously reserved for cigarettes.  They had no evidence Рor if they did they kept it jolly quiet Рbut they began to assert that cigars are just as dangerous to health as cigarettes.
Now, I already had my suspicions of the whole Crusade. Crusades, even when based on a reaction to real harm (Prohibition comes to mind) seldom make for good public policy. They are rooted in the conviction that most people hold that the world would be a better place if they were in charge. A lot of people manage to contain this groundless conviction, but the ones that don’t can do an enormous amount of harm before society gets sick of them.
Now, I don’t dispute that there is strong statistical evidence that smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or more leads to a broad variety to ills, including lung cancer, emphysema, and so on. But the biological mechanism is unknown even now. The assertion that cigarette tar is carcinogenic, while it makes sense in context, is based on painting liquid slurry on the backs of mice that are bred to grow tumors and then analyzing which ones grow tumors first or fastest. In other words, it comes down to statistics and even then the mechanism is broadly different from the exposure that a smoker has.
If you start looking into the Crusade, you run into all kinds of problems. I see the assertion that 400,000 people die from secondhand smoke every year quite often. You’d think that was pretty solid. But if you follow it back you quickly find that the number was first quoted with regard to actual smokers. And then you discover that that in turn is based on death certificates. Any death by lung cancer is likely to be attributed to smoking, because the American Cancer Society has issued guidelines that encourage that. So they are saying “look at all these deaths that we attribute to smoking because we believe that smoking causes lung cancer; they prove that smoking causes lung cancer!”. A moderately bright five year old could see through that. Then, after a while, the same number begins to be attributed to secondhand smoke. Is there evidence? Well, studies have been done, but they don’t really bear up that well. So it comes back to somebody deciding that anybody who died from lung cancer, or emphysema, or several other ills, probably died from secondhand smoke, totting up the numbers, and then pointing to them as if they proved something.
I do believe that smoking is bad for your health. So is eating rich food, riding a motorcycle, competing in contact sports, sexual promiscuity, and a lot of other things that make life worthwhile. I dislike being nagged. I dislike even more being told by my ‘betters’ that their superior wisdom justifies putting limits on my freedom. I positively detest such nattering when the natterers point to dubious science to justify their meddling. The studies about secondhand smoke do not demonstrate a statistically significant relationship between secondhand smoke and ill health. The EPA’s study claims to, but the EPA ‘adjusted’ the confidence interval, which is a fancy way to say they cooked the books to get the result they were sure was The Truth. Interestingly, in the same study, the EPA admitted that the highest concentration of “Environmental Tobacco Smoke” that they expected to find in the real world would amount to smoking two-fifths of a cigarette a day, per day of exposure. Naturally that aspect of the study hasn’t been played up much.
Burning tobacco smells bad to many people. I sympathize with non-smokers who want smoke free workplaces. If they based their activism of “it stinks and we don’t want to smell it”, I would have no trouble with them. Instead they climb up on their pulpit and assert that I am putting their health at risk and that that means I am a Bad Man whose life they get to meddle in.
To hell with the lot of them.
This isn’t going to be my last post on this subject, by a long shot.