They are the backbone of the cigar industry, working at retail stores and cigar factories, in positions with some of your favorite brands and as influencers on various social media platforms. When it comes to cigars, their preferences vary from a good draw to flavor that brings back memories of days gone by. While this group’s support helps keep the industry afloat, they sometimes go unnoticed, and at times they are ignored. The industry has a completely different take on this group—different ideas and opinions about these hidden figures.
We’re talking about women—who may not comprise a majority in the cigar world but who are not as invisible as many would have you believe. The cigar industry, often seen as a boys club, has a strange relationship with women. Many, if not most, companies have matriarchal figures who contributed greatly to the stories and history of many of the leading brands. Walk into the offices of any cigar company and you’ll often find intelligent women making the decisions and pulling the strings. From the larger chains and franchises to the smaller brick-and-mortar stores, tobacconists are often run by women. Despite this fact, women are visually reduced to sex objects in cigar advertisements and marketing campaigns, or they are completely ignored during discussions that take place in boardrooms, marketing departments and the retail space.
The truth is, women have an important role in this industry, and listening to their stories and opinions will open new doors for manufacturers and retailers. Tobacco Business reached out to five very different women who smoke and love cigars. Each shared a unique view and perspective on a host of issues impacting the industry, from how women can be better served by the industry to their representation within the industry and what they look for in a cigar.
Tobacco Business: For those women who don’t smoke cigars, what do you feel is the biggest reason they don’t, and how can they get over this to get into the category?
Delicia Silva: Since most advertisements and cigar lounges are still targeting men, women may feel that smoking cigars is still an all-boys club. I think men who smoke should invite their wives, girlfriends, friends and sisters to share cigars with them. Also, the women who do smoke should keep introducing more nonsmokers to the mix so they can see how great the cigar lifestyle really is.
Amy Tejada: The world of cigars is one dominated by men, and most women are intimidated when they walk into a cigar lounge and don’t see any women around. With that being said, a woman in a cigar lounge tends to become the elephant in the room and can result in plenty of gawking from the men surrounding [her], which can be overwhelming. I would say that being themselves, humble and respectful will help them be comfortable in any place at any time.
Tatum: Walking into a cigar shop is very intimidating in the beginning for any smoker, and they don’t know where to start. It’s not revolutionary, but some kind of chart for each brand with a sort of cheat sheet would be helpful. Include basic information like body, strength and basic flavor profile. When I offer a cigar to a friend, often they are open to trying it and enjoy the smoke but never would have gone to buy one on their own.
Luicita Moran: Cigars aren’t for everybody, and I know many men and women who don’t care to try one. However, for the most part when I do speak to women about cigars, their biggest complaint is the smell of the smoke itself. They don’t like the lingering smell of the smoke on their clothes or hair. There are products on the market that can help eliminate the smoke smell in the air, much like ionizers, but the smell that sticks to your clothes can’t easily be deodorized.
Do you feel women are well-represented in the premium tobacco industry?
Erica Arroyo: No! It’s always been about the sexuality side. Why? Because it sells, and everyone knows that. However, where’s the realness? Where are the women who are heavy into cigar smoking? Everyone knows the majority of the women showing off their skin can’t be taken seriously. Show me a photo with five women from different walks of life smoking cigars. We come in different shapes, sizes and [are] probably one of the coolest crowds you’ll sit with.
Tejada: I believe very deeply that women are misunderstood in this industry, and that leads to the underrepresentation we have in the cigar industry. One of the big problems is that women are still seen for their sex appeal before their intelligence and abilities, especially in such a male-driven market. As a woman, and one who smokes, I want to encourage respect for women and confidence among those who work in this industry.
Silva: As a straight comparison, there certainly are far more male manufacturers than women. However, the current female representation in that segment is strong, and I have noticed a lot more women getting into the industry, and there could definitely be even more. One thing to point out is that the backbone of this entire cigar-making world is made up of many women who work in the fields and factories, helping in every aspect of making the cigars we smoke—from curing, sorting, rolling and packaging. They aren’t often glamorized in the media, but without them we would not have the cigars we so often enjoy.
In terms of marketing or outreach, what are cigar manufacturers, brands and even retailers getting wrong when it comes to women?
Silva: Women are women, whether we smoke cigars or not. We enjoy hanging around other women, having “girl time,” enjoying a glass of wine with a cigar, unwinding from work and planning our futures. The marketing and outreach remains targeted to a male audience. While some manufacturers have changed their ads to appeal to a slightly younger demographic, they still don’t necessarily target women. This has always seemed backwards to me because if you can appeal to a woman, men will follow. Not necessarily vice versa.
Moran: I believe this question applies more to retailers. I believe that cigar shop and lounge owners need to do a better job at creating a more welcoming environment for women, especially those that are new to the cigar community. It can be a very intimidating experience for some who don’t know what to expect or how to act around a male-dominated lounge. When I walk into a cigar shop, as an experienced cigar smoker, I personally dislike being followed or watched inside the humidor. The staff should be taught to ask the right questions that will help them identify and differentiate between a novice and experienced cigar smoker and base their next steps in the sale process on the answer received.
Tejada: Something else that is very common in retail stores is that women are perceived to only smoke sweet or infused cigars because people believe a woman can’t handle the flavors or strength of a premium hand-rolled cigar.
What can cigar manufacturers and brands do to grow their female customer base?
Tatum: I like brands that offer a smaller-gauge stick, like a Lancero or Corona. I personally don’t shy away from a large gauge, but it can be intimidating for some women who may be newer to the hobby. I also appreciate ads that show people who actually smoke the product. We get that a model holding a cigar is a nice image, but when you get the feeling that she wouldn’t consider lighting that stick, it’s not quite as effective for me. I think women would respond to attractive but relatable women that enjoy the hobby.
Moran: I am not a typical female cigar smoker because I’ve developed my palate that can equal a man’s palate, so I look at the industry from a man’s perspective. However, if I look at it on a business aspect, I would say that cigar brands need to employ more women in marketing management positions because I believe women bring a different element to marketing than men, especially in a male-dominated industry. I’m not referring to positions in marketing like cigar “models” showcasing cigars at trade shows and events. I am referring to positions that are on a brand’s marketing team where ideas from a woman’s perspective can be heard and included in the brand’s strategy in consumer outreach.
What are some of your favorite cigar brands doing that you really like?
Tatum: Brand design is important. When browsing through cigars in shops, I typically reach for something that is visually appealing before exploring it further. I also appreciate how some brands are more interactive on social media. I like to feel that I have a little insight into the brand’s activity or behind-the-scenes insight. Most of all, a tasty blend and construction is key. I’m not drawn to brands with the most new releases or gimmicky marketing.
Tejada: One of the things I appreciate about my favorite brands is their hunger for originality. They continue to break the mold and have been creating some pretty interesting blends and really beautiful, eye-catching artwork for their products. I also love that so many companies within this industry make employee satisfaction a priority. Manufacturers are focused on having a great team behind their brand and make a point to ensure their employees feel appreciated, allowing them to be themselves. When a company allows individuality and originality to flourish, it creates an environment full of free spirits and full of passion. And I really appreciate that because the cigars reflect the people behind them.
Silva: I love, love, love the idea and branding by Nirka Reyes in the Saga series—the Short Tales series that are actual books for the box with pages that tell a story about the tobacco is ingenious. I also really love all the creative artwork and branding with all of Nick Melillo’s stuff. Each of his lines shares a piece of history, and matched with the incredible design, each box is a true work of art.
Moran: As a businesswoman and event producer, I believe in the personal touch of a brand. It can be done in various ways, like the way Skip Martin of RoMa Craft developed a large following through his social media platforms. He is as real as real gets, and his personality on social media is who Skip is in real life: nothing pretentious, and a brand owner who does not hesitate to share his opinion on politics, business, industry and so on. People look forward to reading his posts daily, thus they become loyal fans of his brand because of how great his cigars are but also because of Skip himself.
Steve Saka is another great example of a cigar manufacturer who touches lives personally. Steve takes his fans on a “road trip” experience across the U.S. He personally drives from one cigar lounge to the next across America, visiting his fans and the brick-and-mortar shops who support his brand. He documents his road trip experience on social media with pictures and posts, which gives us fans who follow him the opportunity to experience his adventure with him.
What’s one thing cigar manufacturers and retailers need to know about women who smoke cigars?
Tatum: We aren’t that much different than your male customers. We don’t want to feel like a product was made just for women. No gimmicks—just quality cigars.
Tejada: Women are becoming more interested in the cigar culture and the lifestyle. I would suggest retailers and cigar manufacturers help them feel as comfortable as possible so we can continue to enjoy and share the love for cigars.
arroyo: This lifestyle includes us, too.
Silva: It shouldn’t be surprising to see a woman smoking a cigar any more than seeing a man smoke one. We are a growing segment with extremely intricate palates and great taste!
This story first appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.
– Story by Antoine Reid, an editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.