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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cigars: Not Just for Men Anymore

Holding a 10-centimeter cigar in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, Marina Blasova exhaled a cloud of smoke with an expression of utter satisfaction.

"When I smoke cigars, I relax," said Blasova, a school teacher. "One is enough. When I smoke cigarettes, I just want to smoke more."

She might be on to something. Cigars, long the domain of businessmen and boardrooms, have in recent years won an appreciative female audience in many corners of the globe, including the United States, where celebrities like Demi Moore, Madonna and Linda Evangelista are self-professed fans.

According to local retailers, the trend is catching hold in Russia as well.

La Casa de la Habana, a Moscow shop specializing in Cuban cigars, is reporting a sizable increase in its female customers since the start of the year. And on Thursday, a formidable number of fans like Blasova turned out for cigar manufacturer Davidoff's first so-called "Big Smoke" night for women, held at the Marriott Hotel on Tverskaya.

Teamed with a Christian Dior fashion show, Moet & Chandon and a rich buffet, the cigar evening attracted a crowd of the city's well-to-do, stylish women.

"The first impression might be a little surprise," said W. Todd Trimble, a Davidoff trade delegate. "But I don't think you'll see people pouring water over heads. People here are open-minded."

Indeed, many of the guests on Thursday were already well-adjusted to the notion. "It looks very stylish," said Yelena Rubova, who has smoked cigars for the past several years.

Even newcomers praised the sensation. "I was scared," said Anna Sedarchuk before stubbing out her cigar with a napkin and popping it in a plastic bag. "But something relaxes within you. Why do people smoke? - they want to relax. When you smoke, something bad leaves you."

Cigars were rarely seen in Soviet times, even though a Russian rolling factory once presented its products to the likes of Winston Churchill and Josip Tito. But pairing Russian woman and cigars is not the oddity it might seem. It's only over the past 100 years that cigar smoking has won its high-fashion image. In 19th-century Russia, cigar smoking was as common as taking snuff.

"Cigar smoking by women is nothing new," said Jack Melkonian, a writer currently at work on a book about the history of cigars in Russia. "It's no different than when a woman drinks a glass of whiskey. When I was a young man and saw a woman drinking a glass of beer I thought it was vulgar, but now... "

Oleg Chichillov, a journalist who writes about cigars, believes that many women appreciate cigars better than men. "I've got a feeling that men understand cigars in a cruder and simpler way," he said. "The paradox is that women's understanding of cigars is better and more subtle."

Natalya Bondarenko, the director of La Casa de la Habana, said she's been smoking cigars for more than two and a half years - and had all the reactions from good to bad.

"I don't pay attention," she said. "Women drink wine, women drink cognac. Why shouldn't they smoke cigars?"

Not everyone, of course, is put off by the sight of a woman smoking a cigar. "I personally find it very attractive," said Ed Meehan, a Marriott representative.

You can find high-quality cigars at:

La Casa del Habano, 1 Naberezhnaya Tarasa Shevchenko. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tel. 243-4220. Metro: Kievskaya.

Davidoff, 23 Tverskaya Ulitsa. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Metro: Mayakovskaya.

Embassy Club, 8/10 Bryusov Pereulok. Open daily from noon to last client. Tel. 229-6563/7185. Metro: Okhotny Ryad.