Today I learned more about cigars than I ever thought mattered. Apparently it did matter because, even though neither my wife nor I smoke, we both bought cigars to try. Talking with the owner of Panama Caribbean Tobacco, David Reynaga, we learned how tobacco is grown, dried, prepped, sorted, rolled, shaped, finished, labeled, packaged, and ultimately marketed and sold. We were told the gift cigars we bought for $4.00 would retail in Panama City for at least $7.00, and in the U. S. they could sell for $15 or more.
There were a few surprises in store, like cigars in shapes like a pipe, a hockey stick, and pencil-thin miniature cigars. There was even a monster cigar, and no serious cigar lover would attempt to light up such a manly smoke without a couple hours to kick back and contemplate life’s simple pleasures.
I was told you don’t inhale cigar smoke. The pleasure is in tobacco’s earthy aroma and the fragrances released in the smoke, not unlike incense. A major difference between cigars and other forms of tobacco like cigarettes is that you don’t light a cigar unless you have 30-60 minutes to relax and enjoy the experience. Cigar smoking is a social activity; like drinking fine wine, it is seldom done alone. Another difference is that cigars are not habit forming. When I asked about nicotine cravings, I was told nicotine isn’t what gets you hooked on cigarettes. It’s the other chemicals, the ones the tobacco industry won’t talk about, that make you chemically dependent on cigarettes.
Whether or not you have the urge to light up a cigar, the tour of Panama Caribbean Tobacco in Concepción, Chiriqui, Panama, is well worth the trip. Entry is free of charge. To find the place, leave the Pan American Highway in Concepción on the road to Volcán, about 19 km. west of David. The turn is well-marked driving west. Drive 3-5 minutes and look for the green building next door to and just before the Terpel Gas Station on your left. Say “hi” to David for me.