“You want a glass of water?” asked Will Sauer Monday night. “Your mouth can get pretty dry smoking these things.”
Sauer would know. The GW senior, who still remembers smoking his first Cuban cigar when he was 13, said he developed an appreciation for the sophisticated habit when he was in high school. He is now chairman of the Cigar Smokers’ Forum, a group of GW students who hold events the first Friday of every month and host a handful of speaker dinners every year.
While most of the club’s members are cigar enthusiasts, former chairman Josh Singer was quick to say that the organization is oriented around political discussion and socialization more than smoking. Now a second-year New York University law student, Singer said he wanted to be a part of the organization before he had smoked his first stogie.
“Being around D.C., I saw how social (smoking cigars) was,” he said. “It’s really part of the culture here.”
Singer said he wanted to transform the forum from “guys in the back of a room having cigars” to a political forum and an opportunity for students to a senior, he made his case and was granted funding from GW for his organization.
Thus began the Cigar Smokers’ Forum in its current form, though it had existed for years. The group dinners, which consist of an hour of smoking and conversation followed by a roughly 20-minute speech and an extended question-and-answer session, have included speakers ranging from Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry to University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Sauer said the speakers are usually cigar smokers who work some discussion of their habit into their speeches.
In addition to Trachtenberg, various University administrators have spoken at the forum.
“My goal was always to bring students and faculty together so that they could interact with each other on a social basis,” said Singer, who emphasized that smoking at forum events is not mandatory.
Sauer said he treats cigar smoking as “a social hobby,” but added that he sometimes enjoys a smoke while studying.
“It’s a nice relaxation method while you’re doing work,” said Sauer, cigar in hand, as he sat on his third-floor balcony overlooking 22nd Street.
His smoking setup is quick and methodical, not surprising for someone who smokes one to two cigars a week. He sets up a luxury camping chair on his balcony and grabs a cigar, cutter, matchbook and glass of water.
For Sauer, the cigar appeal is in the taste. Neither he nor Singer smoke cigarettes.
Trachtenberg can relate. The longtime cigar aficionado, who never liked cigarettes but started by smoking pipes because he “thought they made me look sexy,” said he still smokes one to two cigars a week.
He added that as people have become more aware of the potential health problems associated with smoking, the practice has become less socially acceptable.
“It’s a private vice these days,” he said. “Friday night after dinner I’ll sometimes sit down with a glass of scotch and enjoy a cigar.”
As University president, Trachtenberg said he cannot condone any type of smoking; he did acknowledge that cigars can have a calming effect.
“I don’t encourage undergraduates to smoke cigars,” he said. “Occasional social drinking and cigar smoking are acceptable distractions.”
Isabel Goldenberg, director of Student Health Services, said an occasional stogie is not likely to lead to major health problems; regular cigar smoking, however, can be just as dangerous as cigarette smoking.
“Cigars are much more potent than cigarettes in the amount of tobacco they have and the amount of nicotine they have. They are much more addictive,” she said.
Sauer said his forum is always open to new participants, but he is wary of the group getting too big. Cigar in one hand, water glass in the other, he slowly exhaled a plume of cigar smoke and quietly watched the 22nd Street traffic Monday night.
“I’m just going to finish this one up,” he said.