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The number one factor that determines whether you’ll enjoy a cigar is the cigar itself. If you just want a whole bunch of “sticks” to pass around at a bachelor party, a box of what used to be called 10 cent drugstore cigars will do. These cigars usually have cheap, shredded tobacco and paper shells, are usually made by a machine, and are sometimes coated with sugar to mask their harsh or bitter flavor with sweetness. Cigar connoisseurs often look down on these brands, but, when pressed, at least a few will admit to a favorite “dime” cigar, smoked as a sort of guilty pleasure.

True cigar lovers will lean towards premium cigars. These cost anywhere from a dollar or two to $20, with some superpremium cigars costing a lot more than that. These cigars are 100 percent tobacco, and generally handmade with one tightly-rolled leaf.

The surge in cigar sales in the mid- to late-90’s resulted in a plethora of new brands flooding the market, just as increased demand started to drive up the prices of premium cigars. Fortunately, with the cigar fad tapering off, prices should be dropping soon.

If this is your first time dipping into the cigar habit, it’s probably a good idea to get some advice before your first smoke. Consult a local cigar store — preferably, one that’s been around for a while rather than a kid in the new outlet that just opened up in the mall. The industry bible is Cigar Aficionado, and you can quickly familiarize yourself with the most popular brands and styles by glancing through this magazine.

Have modest expectations the first time around. You probably won’t appreciate a $20 cigar on your first smoke. Likewise, you probably don’t want one that’s too big, or too strong, either of which could turn you off from smoking for a while. Expect to pay $3 to $5 for a pretty good, mild cigar.

After you’ve picked out a stogie, relax — the hard part is over with.

First, clip off the end of the cigar right before the nub curls into the main cylindrical part (anywhere from about 1/2 to 1/4 of an inch). Your local cigar store can handle this part for you, and if you plan on smoking regularly, it’s probably a good idea to buy your own set of clippers. There are several types of clippers, all of which are, basically, different means to the same end. One type carves a hole in the end of the cigar, another makes a V-shaped cut. Like most other things when it comes to smoking, it’s all a matter of personal preference.

The clipping of a cigar affects its draw, or how easy or hard it is to puff. It might take a few tries to get the clip just perfect; be patient. If you find the draw to be too hard, simply clip a bit more off the end.

Once you’ve clipped the cigar and slightly moistened the end (and yes, you can do it like in the movies), it’s time to “set it off.” It’s probably best to light the cigar using matches. Some cigar fans say the butane of an ordinary lighter tends to taint the flavor of the tobacco. Probably the most common mistake beginners make is in lighting the cigar. Whatever you do, don’t jam the flame right near the end and puff furiously. This will only result in a cigar that’s too hot and a burnt taste all the way down. Rather, place the match or lighter about 1/2 to 1 inch below the tip of the cigar and lightly puff while slowing turning the cigar over the flame, making sure the entire edge is lit. It may not look all that macho, but it certainly tastes better in the long run. It might take a few lights or another cut to get the cigar going properly; again, be patient.

Now that the cigar is going, you can actually start to enjoy it! Roll the smoke around in your mouth (but don’t inhale into the lungs). Note the amount of smoke as well as its flavor. Some enthusiasts like to dip the puffing end of the cigar in whiskey, cognac, or other fine liquor to keep it moist and increase the flavor.

Most premium cigars are expertly rolled and will burn evenly throughout the smoke. Occasionally, however, due to the cigar or the initial light, one side of the stogie will burn a bit quicker. If this happens, adjust the quick-burning side so that it’s on top. This sounds counterintuitive, but believe me, it works. The bottom side will soon catch up.

Unfortunately, the cigar will inevitably come to an end. Usually there’s a point where the taste turns bitter or the heat from the butt starts to singe the lips. As a courtesy to others, lay the cigar in an ashtray rather than stubbing it out. One of the main causes of cigar “stink” people complain about is the sudden scotching of the tobacco while the cigar is being stubbed out.

After the cigar is out, there’s just one thing to do — pick out the next one!