Later today (July 24, 2022), about 15 people from across the country are scheduled to assemble at an upmarket restaurant in Vasant Vihar, in New Delhi. The group includes an entrepreneur from Mumbai, a microbiologist from Delhi, and an IAS officer from Chhattisgarh. What unites these men and women is a love of cigars, and they will be competing against each other in the Indian qualifiers of the Cigar Smoking World Championship (CSWC), an international competition in the slow smoking of cigars.
The top three — competitors who smoke their cigars the slowest — will represent the country at the CSWC in Split, Croatia, in September.
A championship devoted to slow smoking of cigars might sound like a frivolity, but cigar aficionados probably don’t see a better way to fritter away time. The CSWC is over 10 years old, and in Split last year, Henrik Krisstenson, the current world champion, smoked his cigar, at a glacial pace, for 2 hours, 42 minutes and 07 seconds.
“What can be more enjoyable than slowing down, chatting with fellow cigar enthusiasts, and enjoying your cigar? It’s a test of patience and skill,” said Raahuul Kapoor who comes from a family of cigar aficionados.
Cigars, he said, are meant to be smoked slowly. Smoking a cigar fast or puffing too often — “it’s not a steam train!” — leads to the excessive burning of the leaves, destroying their natural flavour.
Delhi-based Kapoor and his late mother Shweta co-founded the India Cigar Club in 2012 to “create a non-judgemental environment” for the country’s cigar smokers. Kapoor claims the club has about 10,000 members, of which 2,900 are active ones, i.e., “members who meet on a monthly basis”.
Kapoor, who distributes and retails over 20 cigar brands across Asia and the Middle East, also runs an experiential luxury company along with his siblings that works with brands such as the independent watchmaker Cecil Purnell.
Sunday’s event, which has been licensed by the CSWC, will serve as both the pre-qualifiers and the qualifiers and have a “lot of the younger crowd”, says Kapoor. Over 30 qualification events are held across the world every year for the CSWC.
There are several rules that apply to the slow smoking of a cigar in the Indian leg of the CSWC: competitors are only allowed to light their cigars once; and after they’ve lit them, they are expected to spend the following five minutes in silence. “After that you can chit-chat with your neighbours. We don’t allow phones or anything with a reflective surface on the tables. That’s because people can use the reflection of the cigars on their phone screens, or on a reflective surface, to gauge how well their cigar is lit,” said Kapoor. The big ask, among many ‘no’s’ (no putting wet hands on cigar from drink and no exhaling through the cigar, both of which help it burn slower; and no moving the cigar band, or burning it) is to not let the ash on your cigar fall for the first 40 minutes.
“It helps you focus. Every cigar burns at a different angle and because it’s a natural leaf, the burn rate is always different. So you keep moving the cigar, you keep adjusting it. Scientifically speaking, holding an inch or so of ash on a cigar does help keep it cooler,” said Kapoor.
The ‘longest ash’ he’s ever held, he claims, is 7.7 inches on a Super Corona cigar. “This was in 2015. We were at a brunch. It took me about five and a half hours and half my family had left by the time I got there,” said Kapoor.
(Cigar smoking is not a safe alternative to cigarettes, and can cause cancers of the mouth and throat as well as heart disease — even if you do not inhale.)