From the Field & Farms: Notes from Nicaragua

It is an honor to talk to policymakers about premium cigars to protect small businesses brick and mortar retailers and family-owned manufacturers working for the Premium Cigar Association. Not a day goes by where I do not think about, speak about, and smoke premium cigars since joining the team almost two years ago. This past January I had that opportunity to see another important side of the premium cigar industry beyond the policy sphere of the US Capitol or our 50 State Capitols by journeying to Nicaragua. It was an immersive learning experience with lessons learned that will help me better advocate for the totality of the industry with a better understanding of the full depth and breadth of premium cigars. 

Luciano Meirelles of ACE Prime Cigars graciously hosted me for a week where we traveled to Esteli, Pueblo Nuevo, Jalapa, Granada, Managua and many parts in between. We frequently enjoyed cigars along the way and visited farms, factories, and fermenting barns. I am grateful for Luciano’s willingness to teach and provide unfettered access to the process of premium cigar making, which we even shared a bit of on our PCA Live alongside Eradio Pichardo, who was another master blender that I had the opportunity to learn from during this trip. From rolling and bunching demonstrations to draw testing, packaging and even blending, I asked hundreds of questions to better understand how everything comes together. I would also like to acknowledge Perdomo, AJ Fernandez, Aganorsa Leaf, Plasencia, Oliva for also providing tours and insights along my first journey to Nicaragua. 

Far too many people do not understand the full scope and positive impact of the premium cigar industry from a national perspective in the United States let alone the global perspective Thus, PCA exists to educate and advocate for the businesses and people in this vibrant industry that stretches across borders and continents. Data, research, and talking points are incredibility important in getting a sense of premium cigars and the policy implications, but nothing can beat the sensory experience of meeting with the people, seeing the fields, and working the tobacco, which is both art and science coming together. Although this journey was a brief firsthand snapshot of the totality of both a time and labor-intensive undertaking, I feel better prepared in articulating the A to Z of premium cigars in my role in government affairs. I hope to bring some newfound experiences, anecdotes, and knowledge to the FDA, White House, and Congress to showcase the positive impact of premium cigars. 

Even having studied political science and worked a decade in public affairs and lobbying, I knew coming into this role at PCA that I still had a lot to learn about this vast industry, which was previously just a passion for me as a routine consumer. Last year, I had the opportunity to take the Tobacconist University course and learn the essentials, which paired well with this field experience in Nicaragua. Someday I hope to also visit the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and many of the other countries that build the economic, social, and cultural fabric of premium cigars in the months and years to come. The full magnitude of premium cigars comes together through experience like a trip to Nicaragua and provide context at the intersection of consumers, retailers, and manufacturers. We have daunting policy matters ahead of us and it is integral that we work together and operate with a clear understanding of the foundations of why premium cigars are important.

In Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to see the thousands of people employed in the premium cigar industry and the infrastructure that has been built around the industry and continues to be built including roads, medical clinics, childcare centers, and other facilities. Natural disasters and poverty have still ravaged the country despite positive development. In addition to seeing all the beautiful fields and factories, I witnessed the extreme poverty in the Jalapa region in particular. It is important that the industry continues to invest in people and projects that drive this industry forward and work to address humanitarian conditions. It was great to see Ace Prime’s recent launch of a charitable foundation to serve these goals and the continued work of other manufacturers and growers working to improve the quality of life of people that they employ. 

In addition to learning, I was also honored to meet with representatives of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco to discuss ways we can collaborate to promote shared goals and advance a positive outlook of the premium cigar industry before a new administration in the United States that has a history of working to promote economic development and sustainability in the region. During this experience, I felt like an ambassador of premium cigars and realized that we all have the ability to promote our specialty within premium cigars and work together to not only protect the industry but advance it forward towards growth and prosperity. 

For those of you that have traveled to see factories and farms in the past, you can relate to the newfound feeling of lighting up a cigar knowing the full scope of how it got here and the effort it took. For those of you that haven’t had the opportunity to make the journey yet, I highly recommend it and know that your passion for the industry will only grow after this experience. Not only will you savor your cigars in a different way, but you will cherish the moments and recall the places and faces that made it possible. The outcome of this journey for me was a renewed sense of purpose, better understanding of the complexity of process, and a deepened obligation to fight for premium cigar consumers, retailers, and manufacturers and all of the people that make up our community.