While cigarette smoking has been slowly declining in the face of massive regulation and anti-tobacco campaigns in the United States, cigar smoking has held steady generally and is on the rise among teens.
In all socio-economic levels, puffing on a good cigar - or even a bad one - is looked upon by many as a sign of taste and sophistication. A lively cigar culture like that of wine aficionados flourishes.
This is great news in a little corner of Tampa, Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico coast. It’s Ybor - pronounced “EE-bore” - City, an old neighborhood that’s become a tourist destination.
Guess what they’ve been making there for 125 years?
Aromatic, hand-rolled cigars.
The modern cigar industry began in Cuba, but things got tense there right before the Spanish-American War in the late 19th Century. So a lot of cigar makers moved their shops to Key West, a little island at the very bottom of Florida.
But up on Florida’s west coast, Tampa’s mayor was looking for something to perk up what was then a miserable little fishing village. Come to Tampa, he told cigar makers, and we’ll practically give you thousands of hectares of land.
Hundreds - led by a Spaniard named Don Vicente Martinez Ybor - accepted his offer. Pretty soon a Tampa neighborhood took his name: Ybor City.
More than 250 factories opened there, and Tampa became Cigar City for the entire world. But as cigarettes overwhelmed cigars in popularity in the mid-20th Century, a lot of Ybor City cigar makers closed up shop. And big companies bought out little ones and moved to Central America.
Lately, though, both cigar smoking and Ybor City have come roaring back. More than a dozen factories are rolling tobacco leaves for cigars again, and Ybor City has become a hot spot of nightclubs and restaurants. On weekend nights, the streets look like Carnival without the masks.
And since Ybor City is now packed with trendy little brewpubs called “microbreweries,” there’s always a buzz about a good beer and a great cigar.