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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Believers, a Good Cigar Is a Smoke

Everybody is smoking them. Linda Evangelista smokes them. So do Linda Carter, Sharon Stone and Madonna. Jean-Claude Van Damme and B.B. King are both regular puffers. And among Moscow's expatriate community, the celebration of cigar smoking has become reason enough for a party.

Ten Americans, an Irishman, a Swiss and two Russians gathered in a wood-walled room in the Central House of Writers on Tuesday night to drink cognac and smoke a lot of cigars. A fire crackled in the background. "Let It Be" played on the Muzak system as diners chewed beef with mushrooms. And waiters in black tie rushed around carrying precariously balanced armloads of ashtrays.

The first formal cigar event of its kind was organized by Jason Williams, an American real estate consultant. Williams, who is from Michigan, started smoking cigars eight years ago. Today, at the age of 22, he says he consumes four cigars a day. At the cigar dinner, he smoked six.

"The thing that has always amazed me about cigar smoking is that people from different walks of life can share in its enjoyment," Williams said. "I'd like to see this develop -- to expand and grow into charity balls and bigger events of cigar lovers."

Cigar smoking, with all its fetishistic rituals and precision tools, is growing and catching on in Moscow. At the party, smokers brandished surgical steel tip cutters and spoke of moistening cherry-wood humidors they left at home.

And they smoked with no fear of angry nonsmokers shooting dirty looks across the restaurant. Williams said when he comes across an avid cigar hater, which is often, he puts out his smoke.

"The last thing that I want to do is create a negative environment," he said. "I smoke them to relax and if someone is angry with me, it defeats the entire purpose. I don't smoke them to offend anyone. If someone is upset, I apologize and put it out immediately."

W. Todd Tribell, a spokesman for Davidoff, the company that provided the cigars and cognac, said the last year has brought a tremendous explosion of cigar sales in Moscow -- they're up 40 percent from the previous year.

The Swiss company has exported cigars to Russia for two and a half years.

"It's an expression of a lifestyle," said Tribell, an American who speaks with a German accent. "The majority of people buying cigars in Russia today are new Russians. But of course expatriates buy quite a few as well."

Tribell said that Moscow's rise in cigar sales reflects a worldwide trend. "There's been a huge boom in the international market. None of the factories can keep up with production."

A magazine for cigar lovers, Cigar Aficionado, is proof. It started in 1992 as a 130-page magazine and has since grown to 354 glossy, ad-filled pages.

At the Boutiques store in Moscow's Palace Hotel, sales of Davidoff cigars, which range from $8 to $25 apiece, have been increasing between 3 and 5 percent a month since July, according to Sergei Aberkov, a buyer for Phargo, which owns the shop. Phargo's president, Geoffrey Carr-Harris, and his wife and vice president, Marina Korotaeva, were both at the cigar party.

"Never do this to a cigar," said Korotaeva, as she pretended to stub her lit cigar out in the ashtray. "You let it die an honorable death. Then you can relight it."

Most of the evening's guests had a different favorite cigar. But all agreed on one thing. Cuban cigars aren't that great.

David Silverman, a recently unemployed banker, sniffed when the word "Cohiba" was mentioned. "That's a brand thing. It's like a new Russian wearing Versace," he said of the popular Cuban cigar manufacturer. Silverman is partial to Hoyo de Monterrey cigars from Honduras.

Jerry Morris, an electrical engineer who brings his own cigars to Moscow from the United States, said he smokes one or two a day.

"I'm very partial to Honduran cigars," he said, a cigar wedged between his teeth. "Cubans are overrated. Many of the best rollers and growers have left Cuba for the Dominican Republic because the economy is better there."

At the end of the evening, Tribell spent a good 20 minutes teaching a novice how to light a cigar.

"You can ruin it -- much like baking cookies -- you can overbake them, scorch them," he said as he pulled out a special long white cedar match with no sulphur on the tip.

"It can take five minutes -- it can take four or five matches. Why hurry? Anything that's pleasurable in life you don't rush. There's pleasure building from the anticipation. Amongst men we often like to say, 'preparing a cigar is like preparing your wife,' " said Tribell, apparently not noticing that he was not amongst men and that there were three women in the room. "'You have to go nice and slow.'"