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Cigar smoking by women
  1. ANNE MARIE O’KEEFE
  1. Prospect Associates, 10720 Columbia Pike, Suite 500, Silver Spring, Maryland 20901, USA. aokeefe{at}prospectassoc.com

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    A woman’s guide to cigar smoking: everything you need to know to be the ultimate cigar aficionada. Rhona Kasper. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1998. ISBN 0-31218-230-9, pp 128, US$13.95.

    “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”—Sigmund Freud

    But not often in this book.

    A woman’s guide serves as a vehicle for a lot of double entendre, and very little else. The book joins a recent spate of publications timed and designed to capitalise on the suddenly rising popularity of cigars. But it offers conspicuously little information. It seems, in the end, not intended at all to make the reader an expert in cigar consumption, but simply to arm her with enough glibness and posturing to “pass” as a bonne vivante.

    The book offers all the props for a superficial show, completely unencumbered by substance. In the section on “Licking Your Cigar?!” for example, Ms Kasper concedes there is no practical reason to engage in this behaviour, and then advises: “It’s a real head turner when a woman coyly licks her cigar from end to end. And I am definitely not one to waste a chance to turn some heads. So go ahead. Make a statement, turn some heads, cause a stampede. And those uptight cigar experts who soundly denounce licking a cigar. . . . I’ll bet my Opus X they’d fight to trade places with the lucky men mesmerized by you, your tongue, and your cigar!”

    The first chapter seems an attempt to “borrow” and compress the truly brilliant “women’s liberation” marketing strategy of Edward Bernays, which he himself called “the engineering of consent”. Bernays was the advertising mogul who designed the “Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet” campaign,1 and who organised women to smoke in public during the 1929 New York Easter parade carrying placards that defined their cigarettes as “torches of liberty.”2 Bernays is probably more responsible than any other individual for the epidemic of smoking-related disease and death among American women.

    Kasper’s version: “Times have changed. The idea of a woman who smoked used to be the homely housewife secretly lighting up outside near the woodshed. Today, no one is surprised to see a powerhouse woman proudly puffing a double corona. . . . Just holding this power prop at the end of her fingers gives today’s woman a sense of liberation—as either a revolutionary feminist or a romantic femme fatale.”

    Incidentally, Ms Kasper’s interchangeable use of the terms “revolutionary feminist” and “romantic femme fatale” suggests she doesn’t see much difference between the two.

    Consistent with the lack of substance or utility in this book, the pullout quotations sprinkled at chapter openings and other places seem centered simply on the glories of excess: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” (Mae West) “Instant gratification takes too long.” (Carrie Fisher) “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand and sixty.” (Imelda Marcos)

    And a good measure of self-glorification: “Puff softly, and carry a big cutter.” (Rhona Kasper)

    Under the pretence of being a guide to cigar smoking, the publication is a not-well-disguised playbook for getting men. Her main argument is that where cigars are smoked, “The ratio of men to women is terrific—at least one hundred to one.” The “icebreakers” she offers are beyond embarrassing, downright nauseating: “Would you like to come back to my place and see my vintage cigar collection?” “Tell me more about your handsome cigar.” “You’re so hot, you’ve got me smoking.”

    And, of course, the inevitable: “Is that a cigar in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”

    In the end, the book denigrates both men and women. In the chapter on “Judging a Man by His Cigar,” Kasper advises that “A man’s cigar is an extension of himself.” Yet none of the several types of men she describes includes anyone you would want to have over for dinner. A few pages describe the parts of a cigar, and the different kinds of tobaccos used in them. The chapter on “The Morning After” includes tips on “Getting rid of cigar breath” and “Getting rid of cigar smoke in your clothes” (by enclosing them with open boxes of baking soda) and from your hair (“On the way home from your cigar event, roll the window down and put your head out the window.”). But most of the text in this nadir of inanity is devoted to posturing—how to use cigars as “power props” and to pick up men. Many pages are devoted to how to hold your cigar to achieve different affectations: “The Forearm Grip . . . use this hold after you’ve gushed, ‘Oh wow, I’d love to try your cigar.’ Grab his forearm and thrust his cigar in your mouth. A great way to meet people without having them worry that you’ll steal their cigar.”

    The most glaring omission, of course, is any information about the serious health effects of cigar smoking. According to the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI’s) new monograph on Cigars: health effects and trends, also published this year: “Cigar smoking can cause oral, esophageal, laryngeal, and lung cancers. Regular cigar smokers who inhale, particularly those who smoke several cigars per day, have an increased risk of coronary heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”3

    The NCI monograph also warns that after a long period of decline, cigar use in the United States has risen dramatically since 1993, especially among young people, the affluent, and the well educated. In fact, among California men with incomes of $75 000 and more per year, cigar and cigarette use are almost equal.

    This awful trend is a déjà vu of the history of spit tobacco. Somehow a tobacco product, loaded with all the toxins of cigarettes but without the long history of specific research proving how deadly it is, gets projected and used as risk free.

    Tobacco control advocates must wonder, after all that we have learned, and all that we have worked to teach others, why the shallow, vapid, transparent lifestyle marketing of publications like A woman’s guide, and indeed the immensely popular Cigar Aficionado, work to recruit customers.

    Somehow Rhona Kasper’s efforts seem especially insipid because she is a woman recruiting women to this deadly habit. The dedication of her book is especially poignant: “Dedicated to my mom—with all my heart.”

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