This summer junior Bryan Gless and his friends were on the roof of a GW residence hall. Their lawn chairs formed a semi-circle. There, smoking cigars late at night, they thought of the idea for the club they formed this fall – the Cigar Smoking Hibachi Grillers.
“We were talking about how trivial some things in life are and how important it is to have good friends and good fun,” said Gless, the club’s president. “The idea was really conceptualized that night. We thought there aren’t many things that form a bond like cigar smoking.”
The Cigar Smoking Hibachi Grillers is one of two new cigar clubs formed this fall. Its membership rapidly grew to more than 200 members in the first month.
The Cigar Smokers Forum was started by fraternity brothers from Lambda Chi Alpha who wanted to open their traditional cigar circle up to other students.
Lambda Chi member junior Christian Berle began smoking cigars when traveling in Italy when he was 18 years old. He said he smokes a cigar about once a month.
“Smoking cigars is a different way of interacting,” Berle said. “It is a great way to relax. You can smoke playing poker or just sitting outside on the front steps.”
Berle warned about the lasting odor smoking leaves inside: “I once had to use an entire bottle of Febreez to get the smell out.”
Perhaps University Stephen Joel Trachtenberg would enjoy the reason senior Matt Kernkraut gives for participating in the hibachi club. He said cigar smoking brings an “Ivy League feel” to GW.
“You all sit around and have Ivy League conversations, intellectual and sophisticated,” Kernkraut said. “I think maybe it’s just a way for people to show how distinguished they are.”
In late 1997 and earlier, the Central America cigar boom brought down the price of high-quality cigars in the United States. This made cigars more popular with college students, who wanted a cheaper, more sophisticated alternative to cigarettes, said Edwin Molina, owner of Molina Cigar Imports.
“The deal about cigars is that you look more prestigious than if you’re smoking cigarettes,” Molina said. “Young people like to look sophisticated.”
Molina said he thinks more college students are catching on, adding that there are other benefits that prestige.
“It’s a transition from cigarettes, a much healthier transition,” Molina said.
Outreach coordinator for GW Student Health Services Susan Haney said it is difficult to compare the health risks associated with cigars and cigarettes. She said cigars may pose less of a health risk because people who smoke them usually smoke less than cigarette smokers.
But Haney warned that the Department of Health and Human Services released a report saying cigar smokers have an increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer.
The health risks are the reason freshman Roisin Wisneski said she does not consider smoking cigars.
“I was a runner in high school and I always had trouble breathing without the smoke in my lungs,” Wisnesky said. “The thought of intentionally inhaling fumes into your body, I don’t care how fashionable it is, is just not appealing.
Wisnesky said she also does not enjoy the smell of cigar smoke.
“I would never consider kissing a smoker,” Wisnesky said.
Junior Laura Cusumano said she enjoys lighting up the occasional stogie. She said the conversations in cigar circles help increase their popularity on college campuses.
A good weekend night for her involves eating dinner with friends and then sitting under the tempietto in Kogan Plaza and smoking cigars, she said.
“We talk about guys, ex’s, possible boyfriends, who we’re going to marry, where we’re going to live, what to do with our lives, typical college girl conversations,” Cusumano said. “It’s the weird thing being there at night smoking cigars; it’s just our own little time to dream, to let our mind’s roam.”
Because her grandfather and father smoke cigars and pipes, Cusumano said she is drawn to the sweet smell of cigar smoke.
“I just like sweet cigars.” Cusumano said. “My papa used to smoke pipes that had that sweet smell, and I love that. There’s nothing better than on a cold day than to wear a big sweater and jeans and smell that sweet smoky smell.”
Cusumano said she believes cigar smoking became more popular for women in the mid-1990s. There’s masculinity associated with it, she said, but she feels sexy smoking a good cigar.
“It seems like guys think it’s sexy,” Cusumano said. “I think it’s a power thing.”
Junior Patty Seminetta has been smoking cigars since her junior year in high school. She began lighting up when her guy friends introduced her to cigars, she said. Now, she smokes as much as once a week.
“I’m the kind of person who feels like they can do anything that somebody else is doing,” Seminetta said. “My guy friends were doing it, so I tried it with them. I liked it from the beginning, now I’m hooked.”
Since that first puff, Seminetta said she has developed a technique for smoking.
“There’s definitely a right way to smoke,” Seminetta said. “That’s big among smokers. When do you ash? Do you ash? How do you puff? How do you hold it in your mouth?”
Seminetta said she believes smoking cigars is a growing trend among both young professional men and women.
“It’s definitely an elitist thing,” Seminetta said
Edwin Molina agreed there is a correct way to smoke. By learning to smoke correctly, he said smokers can enjoy the cigar more.
Molina said there are many ways to smoke a cigar. Some people like to savor small puffs while others like to take long, steady draws that fill their mouth with the cigar flavor.
“Most connoisseurs take about a puff per minute, holding the smoke in, swirling it in their mouth, enjoying it,” Molina said. “How long you keep the smoke in your mouth is less important than how slowly you exhale. By exhaling slowly, you allow your palate to discover fully the cigar’s flavor. Like a glass of wine, a superior cigar is meant to be luxuriously savored.”
But, Cusumano said she does not worry about the technicalities. She enjoys smoking for the relaxation it allows.
“It’s the same thing as a campfire. You get very meditative when you’re sitting around a campfire at night, just staring into the fire,” she said. “You can just relax and be outside.”
Kernkraut said he agrees:
“It’s almost like the smoke covers up all your inhibitions, and you’re all just there speaking your mind.”
-Elizabeth Brown contributed to this report.