Premium cigar smokers differ considerably in their attitude to premium cigar smoking compared to smokers of other tobacco products. They identify their smoking of premium cigars as a choice. Smokers of premium cigars do not see their smoking as addictive, with most claiming that they could, and do, easily refrain from smoking premium cigars if they chose to. Instead, it is seen as a luxury, or even a guilty pleasure that is an indulgence for themselves. The sense of it being a shared social experience was also highly apparent. Interviews with premium cigar smokers indicated that premium cigar smoking is a behaviour which is driven by, or accompanies, specific occasions. Rather than driven by habit, all respondents saw it as a behaviour that was primarily undertaken and shared with others in a social situation, often in conjunction with a specific activity, for a specific occasion, or in a specific location. Some examples of these types of situations provided by respondents included:
- smoking premium cigars with a group of friends when they get together for a regular fortnightly or monthly activity such as playing cards or watching sports (specific activity);
- as part of a celebration, such as the birth of a child, a marriage, an employment success, or even just as a conclusion to the day (specific occasion); and
- as a member of a club that caters for premium cigar smokers, providing a place where they can enjoy smoking premium cigars with others and can discuss and learn about different premium cigars (specific location).
The interviews indicted two different types of premium cigar smokers. More frequent premium cigar smokers, those that smoked on a daily basis or a couple times a week, were often extremely knowledgeable about the different types of premium cigars. These premium cigar smokers tended to visit specialist cigar lounges and bought their premium cigars from specialist cigar stockists. They claimed to all have a humidor at home, where they kept and aged cigars. A variety of age ranges were represented within this group, from mid-twenties to late fifties. All premium cigar smokers interviewed were male.
While they may have specific brands that they tended to smoke, they would regularly try others. In fact, trying other brands and learning about different premium cigars was one of the key drivers of continuing to smoke premium cigars. Any preference for a specific brand may be driven by best value for money, the time available to enjoy the cigar, the company and the perceived quality of the tobacco used in the cigar. These types of premium cigar smokers tended to all be well aware of what constituted a quality product, and while they had associations of quality with different brands, other factors influenced the perceived quality of each cigar. They would judge a cigar based on:
- how long it had been aged;
- colour of the tobacco and the wrapping; and
- region of origin.
The brand name and variant of the premium cigar provides an indication of this type of product information. Brand names are essential in providing premium cigar smokers with region of origin, and therefore the type and grade of tobacco that the product contains.
None of the more frequent premium cigar smokers interviewed smoked any other tobacco product. Some admitted to smoking cigarettes when they were younger, but had given them up after taking up premium cigar smoking. These premium cigar smokers would occasionally smoke a cigarillo / little cigar, but one bought as a single sale item at their preferred cigar stockist. The reason for smoking a cigarillo or little cigar instead of a premium cigar was time. For example, they may only have fifteen minutes to spend relaxing with a cigar, so they choose a smaller product that takes less time to smoke.
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Less frequent smokers of premium cigars tended to smoke these about twice a month on average. Their smoking was generally associated with a specific activity, such as a card game, or an occasion, such as a success at work. These premium cigar smokers were less knowledgeable about premium cigars and how to determine quality so were more influenced by brand names. However, it was again apparent that these brand names were seen as an indication of origin of the cigar and it was this that smokers linked to quality. For example, less frequent premium cigar smokers consistently associated quality cigars as being from Cuba, whereas more frequent and knowledgeable smokers of premium cigars would discuss regions within Cuba and also be able to identify high quality cigars from other countries such as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
Some of these less frequent premium cigar smokers were often smokers of other tobacco products, including cigarettes. These premium cigar smokers identified premium cigar smoking as a different experience to cigarettes. While they felt driven by habit to have a cigarette, premium cigar smoking was seen as an occasional pleasure.
To some extent, there was an element of status that was attributed to being seen smoking a premium cigar. This was consistent across both types of premium cigar smokers. It was predominantly related to the expense of the product and being able to afford to smoke cigars. However, more frequent premium cigar smokers had a greater interest in types and tastes of cigars that was not necessarily associated with expense. They may splurge occasionally on a more expensive cigar to celebrate an occasion, but this did not tend to be status related. That is, they did not do it so others could see them smoking the more expensive brands, rather it was a means of treating themselves. It was the less frequent premium cigar smokers for whom the status of smoking cigars was more important. Ultimately, it is these premium cigar smokers for whom brand and packaging had more of a role as it was status related. For more frequent premium cigar smokers, branding was more a means of product information, specifically a way of ensuring they received what they were paying for.
All smokers of premium cigars claimed to not inhale the tobacco smoke. Inhaling smoke from a premium cigar, or any cigar type product, was perceived as something only the na´ve would do. The pleasure of the cigar is in tasting the smoke.
Premium cigar smokers do perceive that there are likely to be health effects from premium cigar smoking. However, these are largely perceived as negligible compared to the smoking of other tobacco products. This is for a number of reasons:
- less tobacco is perceived to be consumed as it is not habitual;
- it is not perceived as physically addictive; and
- it is not perceived to impact on the lungs as much as cigarette smoke does as the smoke is not directly inhaled.