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Cigars “Machine-made Cigars”

By Butler Academy

There is a widely held belief that machine-made cigars are invariably inferior to handmade cigars. One should bear in mind that just as handmade cigars come in a wide range of varying quality, the same is true of machine-made cigars. That a cigar was made by hand does not say that it was well made, or that properly matured, well-blended tobacco was used in its construction. The converse is also true: a machine-made cigar can be constructed from fine tobacco, without using any flavouring or Homogenized Tobacco Leaf.


Why consider machine-made cigars at all? To understand why the better machine-made cigars are worth considering and why they exist, we need to know how they are made.


In the days before the invention of the cigarette-rolling machine, hand-rolled cigarettes were a luxury. Pipes and cigars were far more common until mechanized cigarette production reversed the situation completely. We all know that cigarettes are filled with shredded tobacco while handmade cigars contain whole leaf-halves called long-filler.  However, the torcedor is constantly trimming tobacco away and this tobacco, while still of very high quality, cannot be used in a handmade cigar; the pieces are just too small. However, they can be used in a machine made cigar – a short-filler cigar. That is one reason for better quality, machine-made cigars. Another predictably relates to the cost of labour.


Depending on the style of cigar being made, a single torcedor may roll between 75 and 150 cigars per day. If the torcedors are working in teams, the numbers can rise to between 200 and 400 cigars per day, per torcedor. Even the earliest cigar-making machine required only 4 people to operate, but could produce 3500 cigars in a single day.


A better way to understand the difference may be to make comparisons within a single brand. Tobacco quality and tobacco flavour tend to be fairly consistent within a brand. While it is true that the best leaves will go to the hand-made cigars, especially for the wrappers, those off-cuts are still good tobacco. If the leaves destined for the machine-made cigars were of a much lower quality, the image of the brand would suffer.


So how do machine-made cigars differ? Firstly, they will all be straight-sided cigars; only a master torcedor can roll a  figurado. We have already mentioned the other important difference; the filler. Bunching long-filler leaves is very difficult. If the torcedor gets it wrong, the tobacco can form a dense knot that will prevent the cigar from drawing properly. In fact, one of the main advantages of a short-filler cigar is the easy and regular nature of its draw. Handmade cigars, like almost any truly handmade product you may care to mention, will be slightly inconsistent. For some people, this is an attraction as each box of cigars from their favourite brand may be slightly different. This element of surprise creates a sense of expectation and provides an added dimension to the appreciation of the cigar. For other smokers, this may be unacceptable: If they are spending good money on a cigar they want to know exactly what they are receiving. This is the buyer who will prefer the predictable consistency of a machine made cigar – different strokes for different folks.


There are many indicators that a machine-made cigar may not be high quality, but chief among these will be brand name and price (assuming it is not counterfeit.) There are other signs of course: a binder or a wrapper made from reconstituted tobacco leaf slurry (HTL) or even worse, cardboard, is another dead giveaway. I do not know of any cigars aficionados who take flavoured cigars too seriously.


For many novices, the predictability of a machine-made cigar offers a less intimidating way to discover the world of cigar smoking. Within a brand, machine-made cigars offer the least expensive introduction to the flavours and styles of that brand. Novices can save money by trying the machine-made cigars of various brands until they find a brand they like. They can then begin exploring that brand’s more expensive handmade offerings. Others find they enjoy the machine-made cigars so much that they never make the transition.


It goes without saying that we  are not encouraging people to take up smoking, but providing information that can be used in servicing those who enjoy their cigars, which may indeed include you, the reader. In support of the anti-smoking side, it is a myth that cigar smoking is less risky than cigarette smoking in relation to throat and mouth cancer. That people smoke cigars less often, perhaps due to cost, may be one reason for fewer smoking-related health problems amongst cigar smokers, despite the average handmade cigar containing as much tobacco as a packet of twenty cigarettes. Also instrumental may be that fine cigars do not contain the many chemicals that are added to cigarettes. In the final analysis, as with alcohol, the frequency and the extent to which an individual indulges his or her passion, will determine risk exposure. But even then, Sir Winston Churchill smoked about quarter of a million Churchills—chain smoking them, essentially—and he lived to the ripe old age of 90. So, there you have the Institute’s version of the government’s mandatory health warning to smokers.

by Newton Cross

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