Tobacco has found its way into all of our lives. Some of us have accepted it while others would kill to keep it away from them.
I came into contact with tobacco at an early age. I remember when my father was told by his doctor to stay away from cigars. Always a resourceful man, he bought a pipe, stuck the cigar in the bowl, lit it and looked rather unique. He had gotten as far away from his cigar as he could.
About the same time, when most girls were experimenting with perfume, there was always a faint aroma of tobacco surrounding the girl who sat next to me in the sixth grade.
Her name was Tilly, and for months she remained a mystery.It was spring when I walked Tilly home and she invited me in.
Sitting at a long workbench cluttered with cut-up tobacco leaves in what was once their living room was her father, rolling cigars.
It was Depression time and he has been forced to close his shop and retrench in his living room. Tilly's afterschool job was to deliver the cigars to local stores.
When I left the warm aroma of tobacco, having replaced Tilly's schoolbooks with several boxes of cigars to help with her deliveries, I had in my mouth a gift of a slender cheroot, feeling somehow bigger than the sixth grade.
Having been hooked on cigars by Tilly's father, I still smoke an occasional cigar and never pay much attention to smokers around me.
It was just the other day when a friend and I had finished lunch and he went through, the ritual of lighting up his cigar that we heard this voice from the next table.
"Excuse me, sir, may I ask you not to light up until we finish our lunch?"
My friend complied and we were both polite enough not to mention the offensive aroma of this overly perfumed woman who had almost wrecked our lunch.
According to one authoritative survey, 11.5 percent of adult males over 18 smoke cigars. I decided to visit a few tobacconists around town to see what the trends were in smoking.
At the National Pipe and Tobacco shop, there is a pleasant aroma much like my old friend Tilly's living room.
Big round ash trays are everywhere including tops of cases full of cigars and smoking materials.
Owner Ed Love, looking pleased with his operation said, "Cigar smoking has increased since people have been trying to give up cigarettes. The cigar smoker likes the aroma of the cigar and tends not to inhale the nicotine."
Love estimated that he has 65 to 70 differnt brands in some cases 10 shapes to a brand.
"We have sold cigars from 25 cents apiece up to $2. We sell at least 1,000 a day six days a week. During Christmas a single order could run $875."
To keep the cigars fresh, the store has a 20- by 10-foot room in the back, where the humidity is always kept at about 65 percent.
At A. Garfinkel Inc., manager Larry Garfinkel said, "There is an increase in cigar smoking. We had one big case with 55 open boxes. When we moved to this location we had to add two more large cases and we now have 165 open boxes and could use another case if we had the room."
Kevin O'Rouke, of the Georgetown Tobacco shop, said, "The demand for cigars is great. We have a big Saturday crowd, mostly men who come in and browse around for maybe an hour before buying cigars."
At the John Crouch Tobacconist in Old Town Alexandria, owner Susan Geller said, "We are selling a lot more cigars and there is a trend in women taking to pipes. We have some who smoke a half to a pound of tobacco a month."
I picked up a book by J.B. Back called "The Pleasures of Cigar Smoking."
Mark Twain was a heavy cigar smoker and was quoted as saying, "I was deprived of cigars until I was 8 years old."
The Rothchilds of Paris, who always did things big, would order 40,000 Henry Clay Sobrones for Napoleon III, each tipped in gold. The cost: $120,000.
There is even a ritual to lighting a cigar. First, an incision must be made in the head to provide adquate draft. A cigar cutter is used to snip off the end and could run anywhere from 35 cents to the $2,000 diamond-and-gold device used by J.P. Morgan.
Orson Welles smokes cigars. Clark Gable and Edward G. Robinson were smokers and, of course, Groucho Marx, whose wife once demanded he stop smoking or she would divorce him.
"Okay, he said. "i hope we can remain friends."
In the movie "Gold Rush" Charlie Chaplin does a cigar butt routine after a rich man tosses it away.
Catherine the Great chain-smoked cigars and Greta Garbo did a lot to make cigar smoking romantic. When astronaut John Glenn returned from outer space he received the equivalent of his weight in Havana cigars.
The book points out that Edward VII was banned from smoking in the presence of his mother, Queen Victoria. On the day he assumed the throne his first edict was, "Gentlemen, you may smoke."
Smokers, even long ago, had their enemies.
In the early days in Connecticut, where tobacco was grown, people under 21 were forbidden to smoke and people over 21 had to have a doctor certify them by saying, "Tobacco is useful to the health."
After obtaining a smoking license they were only allowed to smoke outdoors in open fields and had to keep a bucket of water close by in case the sparks started a fire.
In the 17th century, the English took offense to tobacco, claiming that four people died in one week from smoking.
The Chinese took a look at this report and forbade smoking of any sort; the punishment was to lop an ear off, as if that part of the anatomy might be affected by the habit.
To cut out possible lung disease, in 1634 a Russian czar prohibited smoking. For the first offense smokers would be whipped and for the second they would be quickly cured of the habit -- by execution.