Despite health risks and tough anti-smoking laws, cigar sales are still going strong. Just ask Robert Fenton, who owns The Cigar Den store and smoking lounge in Encino. With inviting wingback chairs and jazz music in the background, Fenton provides everything but the cognac for serious cigar smokers. He spoke to Jolie Gorchov about smoking laws and the prevalence of counterfeit Cuban cigars.
Cigars were a passion of mine while I was a manufacturer’s rep in the consumer electronics business for about 20 years. The cigar business became very popular, and I decided to open a retail store and smoking lounge four years ago.
There’s a very old law on the books that says people should be able to try whatever they’re going to buy, so a dedicated cigar shop is exempt from smoking laws. But people are not able to smoke now while socializing in restaurants and bars. For bar owners, it’s affected their business.
Overall, cigar smoking is not as much of a fad anymore. But the business is still very strong. A lot of people got to try it, found out they enjoyed it, and the more serious people kept smoking.
We carry cigars that cost from $1 to $20 each. We also have accessories like cutters, lighters and cigar cases, and gift items like ties that have cigars on them, pencil holders, picture frames, ashtrays and humidor boxes.
It’s illegal to sell Cuban cigars, but we would sell them if it were legal. The real Cubans are very expensive an average box will sell for $200 to $300 in that country.
People have them in the United States, but I would say the great majority of Cuban cigars are counterfeit. Many are actually made in Cuba, but by people who work in their houses and garages and then sell them on the street for $75 a box.
Some of them don’t smoke very well because they’re rolled too tight. They don’t have the exacting standards you would find in a factory. Many times you wouldn’t be able to tell without smoking them. You could get dizzy and feeling sick from smoking cigars that aren’t aged long enough they’re much harsher.