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Smoking Allowed

BU’s Cigar Aficionado Society offers social alternative

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Photos by Vernon Doucette

A sleeve of pearl-white smoke rolls from Theresa Strachila’s mouth as the bartender brings over a jug of ice water. In the dim light, a group of students sinks into leather couches and wingback chairs, lit cigars between their fingers. Tiny stacks of tapped ash fill the oversized ashtrays like ruins. Outside, car lights cut across the plate-glass windows fronting Boston’s North Street.

“There’s a mystique about the club,” says Strachila (CAS’12). “I get emails all the time saying, ‘I don’t know if you’re an exclusive club, but can I please join?’ Or, ‘I don’t smoke cigars very well, but here are my qualifications.’ I’m like, no, please come, there aren’t any applications.”

BU’s Cigar Aficionado Society is one of the school’s 400 or so student clubs, and at 10 years old, among its longest running. And despite the tradition-bound and ancient activity of smoking, the group is seen as one of the University’s quirkiest. At the semiannual Student Activities Expo, it’s the table that gets the most double takes, and school tour guides are known to single it out to prospective students.

On a recent Friday evening at Churchill’s Lounge, near Faneuil Hall, cigars are slipped from cellophane wrappers, clipped, and lit, a constellation of orange suns glowing through mist. The conversation is as thick as the smoke, swirling around such topics as the origin of brandy, the disparity in quality of BU dorms, the University’s printing quota, and concerns over finding work. In a box on the table, club president Strachila (below) fingers out a San Cristobal, a boutique cigar handcrafted in Nicaragua by José “Pepin” Garcia, and hands the stick to a visitor. She’s also brought a box of Ashton Aged Maduros, a medium-bodied smoke with Dominican-grown leaf.

“I enjoy the flavor and the taste,” she says. “I like that smoking a cigar is a communal event. A good cigar takes an hour to smoke. You enjoy it, you enjoy the company of people around you. It’s not like a cigarette, where you go outside for 10 minutes. You’re able to develop conversations more.”

Strachila’s love of cigars was born during a summer-abroad trip to Nicaragua in high school, which included a visit to a village where cigars were hand-rolled. Cigar smokers often talk about the intimate connection between smoker and maker that spans geography and culture. As a BU freshman, Strachila knew she wanted to join the club, but admits she was intimidated.

“I dragged two friends with me, and we came to a meeting and really enjoyed it,” she recalls. “I liked the social nature. It was an eclectic group of people with different opinions. It’s a good way to meet people you don’t live with.”

Today, Strachila estimates that there are 10 or so regulars, with 45 people on the mailing list. Members hail from all over the University, from the College of Arts & Sciences to the School of Management. Students from other local colleges drop by, too, she says. The club always gathers at Churchill’s, one of only a handful of cigar bars still left in the city (the Boston Health Commission has ordered them all shut by 2018 and banned the opening of new ones). The group also puts on formal events at the lounge and organizes trips to Suffolk Downs, with stops at local tobacconists. Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore has been known to show up for a stogie.

“The cigar club is one of the last social things you can do at a university where you can just meet people without any real goal to accomplish at the end of the night,” says club treasurer Dan Loperfido (CAS’11), a philosophy major. “We’re not raising money, we’re not putting this on a résumé.”

The club attracts more males than females, something members would like to change. Of the 10 students smokers who showed up this evening, 4 were women. “My first meeting, I was the only girl,” Strachila says. “It’s associated with men. It’s seen as not feminine to smoke a cigar.”

Katie Parolin (CAS’13) (above) couldn’t care less about that.

“I come every week,” she says, rolling a San Cristobal between her fingers and shooting out smoke rings. “I like the people. It’s kind of like a cult, but a welcoming cult. Anyone who wants to join, can.”

The club traditionally does “monologues” at some point during the evening, where group members introduce themselves, talk about something on their mind, and describe aspects of the cigar they’re smoking. Another feature of the outfit is that the leadership earns the opportunity to work at Churchill’s. Both Loperfido and Strachila make extra cash bar-backing a couple of nights a week. It works out for both parties, since the students already know about cigars and are familiar with Churchill’s policies and the selection in its humidor.

No one is more pleased about the growth of the Cigar Aficionado Society than Drinnan Thornton (CAS’03, SED’05), a bartender at Churchill’s. It’s his baby. He started the club when he was a freshman. Like Loperfido, he was a philosophy major, a course of study that seems to fit well with puffing on a stogie. “Smoking a cigar lends itself very well to just thinking and ruminating about the world, without a doubt,” he says.

Thornton started the club after looking for something to do in the city over Thanksgiving break his first year at BU. He and a friend ended up at L. J. Peretti Company’s Cigar Shop near Boston Common and bought a couple of cheap smokes on a lark. Thornton fell in love. Next semester, he and some friends launched the group, and were eventually welcomed by Churchill’s, which doesn’t impose a cutting fee. He points out that contrary to popular perception, cigars are not prohibitively expensive. “You can still get a premium hand-rolled cigar for $5, and you can take an hour and enjoy your life.”

“The club is good for college students,” adds Thornton, who is also a residence hall director at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “You’re in such an insular community. A lot of students don’t leave campus all week, and this can get them out and into the city, even though it’s a 20-minute train ride. In fact, that should be part of the allure. It makes it feel like more of an occasion: I’m going to go have a cigar, not just step outside.”

Thornton is the first to admit that smoking cigars is not the healthiest pursuit, but neither is wolfing down burgers and pizza or pounding Four Loko, he says. The cigar club at least offers students a socially safe environment.

“You don’t have to get shit-faced to socialize in college,” he says. “You come here, you learn how to interact, to be kind and respectful, and to have good conversation. Now that’s a skill you can use later in life. Trying to figure out how to get a girl drunk at a frat party so you can make out with her—well, that’s just not going to be applicable down the road. No one smokes a cigar and then decides to get naked and run through traffic. And when was the last time you saw two cigars smokers say, ‘Ef you, let’s brawl!’”

The BU Cigar Aficionado Society meets every Friday, from 5 to 8 p.m., at Churchill’s Lounge, 140 North St., Boston. Take the Green Line to Government Center.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

20 Comments

20 Comments on Smoking Allowed

  • Anonymous on 02.18.2011 at 5:21 am

    a.k.a The Chief-cause-of-preventable-death-in-the-US Club

  • Disapproval Larry on 02.18.2011 at 10:14 am

    Hey guys! Let’s use the anonymity offered by the internet to make snide comments about people we don’t know!

    Please. If these people want to go out once a week and smoke a cigar, it’s their choice and they don’t need to catch e-flak for it. I’m somewhat sure with the flood of PSAs over the last decade that they understand the risks of smoking.

    I don’t even believe that smoking a cigar once a week would contribute very much to their inevitable mortality, and they clearly reap social benefits.

  • David on 02.18.2011 at 10:17 am

    preventable death?

    Why are you so anxious to prevent death? Are you so married to your morality? Embrace it and don’t be a slave to the inexorable march of time. Life is but a means to an and.

  • Anonymous on 02.18.2011 at 10:59 am

    Cancer sticks!

  • Anonymous on 02.18.2011 at 11:32 am

    Cigars are not a leading cause of preventable death

    Cigars are not the leading preventable cause of death as is alleged by a previous commenter. Cigarettes are. It is a conceptual and scientific error to lump together everything that burns. Cigars are constructed differently, do not contain chemical additives and have no burning paper. Unlike cigarette smokers, the large majority of cigar smokers do not inhale.

    If one is going to choose to partake or not partake in a pleasurable activity based on a risk assessment it is important to assess the risks properly.

  • Anonymous on 02.18.2011 at 1:19 pm

    Ewww gross, everyone there looks like garbage. Smoking cigars is not cool

  • Anonymous on 02.18.2011 at 1:25 pm

    Any interest for an ECig Club?

    I did an experiment: Purchased the NJOY electronic cigarette from 7 11 and did my daily smoking routine. Rather than smoking I ‘vaporized’. The result was amazing! I did enjoy my daily routine of drinking coffee, watching the hosts past by, while I took my puffs: but, I realized that I did NOT need to smoke actual cigaretts with their tar, bad smell, and teeth staining properties any more. The E CIG ‘taste’ is not comparable to an actual cigarette, but its ok: to me it has hints of HOOKA flavor and the vapor mist is slightly sweetened. Furthermore, since E CIG vapor is virtually odorless, I get to smoke more leisurely inside w/o braving the New England elements. I wish that I’d have become addicted to ‘vapor’ rather than cigarettes a long time ago, and I honestly believe that E CIGs have the swagger to be enjoyed as a replacement for even the ‘social’ smokers. Perhaps we should begin an E Cig Aficionado Society at BU to mark the transition to a new post-smoking era.

  • Anonymous on 02.18.2011 at 2:49 pm

    Nice advertisement

  • Cigar Chick on 02.18.2011 at 3:33 pm

    Vey elegant

    Ignore the naysayers, nanny-staters, pleasure police and anti-enjoyment zealots and smoke your cigars.

    I hear fast food, alcohol and driving a car are also dangerous. Better give them up, too.

  • David on 02.18.2011 at 11:29 pm

    Excellent night guys!

    Good turnout today lots of new faces! It was nice getting to know you guys, everyone is welcome to try us out next week as well!

  • Simon Phoenix on 02.19.2011 at 8:06 am

    What is this, San Angeles? Get over it, Dr. Cocteau.

    Also, technically and philosophically speaking, the largest cause of preventable death in the world is… conception. Get off your high horse.

  • Anonymous on 02.19.2011 at 10:52 am

    we are already dead

  • J Holsapple on 02.19.2011 at 12:32 pm

    Naive and Dangerous

    ‘ “The club is good for college students,” adds Thornton, who is also a residence hall director at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. ‘

    ‘ “You don’t have to get shit-faced to socialize in college,” he says. “You come here, you learn how to interact…Trying to figure out how to get a girl drunk at a frat party so you can make out with her—well, that’s just not going to be applicable down the road. ‘

    These are very troubling comments. Encouraging students to smoke is dangerous and naive – no matter what the presumed payoff in social growth. University officials should be examining the residence hall director’s comments/attitude very closely. The later comment is so knuckle-headed and insipiently misogynistic, I’m not sure how to react.

  • Joshua Cohen on 02.19.2011 at 5:46 pm

    Cigar Smoking

    I’m 65 and have been smoking about a cigar a week for around 15 years since at attorney I worked for turned me on to them. It is definitely not a ‘habit’ and I often don’t ‘herf’ (cigar talk for smoking with friend’s) for weeks. That is, I often don’t smoke a cigar for several weeks for whatever reason. Of all the cigar smokers I’ve met in 15 years I have only met one who inhales. Very dangerous in my opinion and I told him so. I know several women who smoke cigars as they do in the BU club. Great folks. Wonderful to socialize around a good cigar. So, unlike cigarettes that are always inhaled, puff after puff, cigars smoke is rarely inhaled. If I accidentally inhale some smoke it upsets me however it rarely happens, honest. So one smokes a good cigar for it’s flavor and enjoyable, soothing effect. Kind of like a good class of wine, only unlike wine which I also enjoy, cigar smoke gets into your mouth (and even though I realize it exists I’ve never met anyone who got mouth cancer from cigar smoke) and is expelled. Viva a good cigar!

  • Raman on 02.21.2011 at 1:08 am

    Cigar a Risk

    Well its nice information. But…

    The American National Cancer Institute have said that regular cigar smoking has proved to contribute a considerable danger to human health. Research projects have firmly linked cigar smoking with the types of cancer that attack the lungs, larynx, oral cavity and pharynx. More modern conclusions have suggested that smoking cigars may be also linked to pancreatic cancer. Tobacco users who on a regular basis breathe in smoke from cigars undergo a tremendously multiplied chance of enduring both lung and disease.

    The hazards related to an individual’s well being have been quantified to increment dramatically in people who smoke who smoke cigars regularly and breathe in the smoke. An individual who smokes merely three or four cigars every day could be raising the danger of being diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity by 8 times that of a person who does not smoke

    Many individuals are curious as to whether smoking cigars is as addictive as smoking a different tobacco product such as cigarettes. For instance an immense number of tobacco users discover themselves hooked on smoking cigarettes yet a much lower percentage of people who smoke, smoke cigars. The truth is, manifestly every tobacco product is going to be habit-forming merely due their nicotine content. Consider for instance the consequences of “smoke-free” tobacco items including snuff and chewing tobacco, these products can quickly get really habit-forming because of the fact they each incorporate nicotine.

    The majority of individuals who choose to smoke cigars don’t breathe in the smoke as deeply; consequently any nicotine is inhaled into the lungs in lower amounts. A person who smokes cigarettes broadly speaking breath in the smoke more deeply into their lungs allowing for lungs to readily absorb larger amounts of nicotine. Even allowing for the proposition that people who smoke cigars breathe in lower amounts nicotine, it’s all the same still quite probable that they’ll get addicted to nicotine if they continue regularly smoking cigars on a over a prolonged period of time.

    The question is often raised as to why individuals who smoke cigars appear to smoke less often than those who smoke cigarettes? It would appear that people who smoke cigars stave off the addiction process because of several causes. The primary grounds appears to be due to cigar smokers breathing in lower amounts of smoke and nicotine, in addition to this cigars are broadly speaking less obtainable than cigarettes and are looked on a “luxury” or “special occasion” item, associated with rare treats for exceptional events.

    Regularly smoking cigars may nevertheless get habit-forming, and fetch with it every associated health risks with those hazards accelerating dramatically as the quantity of cigars smoked increments.

  • Anonymous on 02.21.2011 at 10:23 am

    what a stupid way to die!

  • David on 02.21.2011 at 1:32 pm

    Cigars a Risk

    I notice that you said that smoking “merely 3 or four cigars a day” increases the risk of oral cancer 8 times? Do you realise how many cigars that is? I’ve been going to this club for a long time and I can do maybe 3 once a week if I’m feeling up to it. 3 or 4 a day is a ridiculously huge amount so its gratifying to know that this is what is considered slight in terms of risk.

    In any case we are aware of the risk that tobacco and nicotine pose, the information is not hidden or obscured anymore, but thank you for the additional info. I perfer instead to think of our cigars as funeral pyres guiding Sister Death through the dim light.

  • Anonymous on 02.21.2011 at 7:48 pm

    Response to "Cigars a Risk"

    “… An individual who smokes merely three or four cigars every day could be raising the danger of being diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity by 8 times that of a person who does not smoke…”

    As the person before me addressed, GOOD LORD. I have never met anyone who has smoked more than three cigars in any given day. I’m usually feeling lightheaded after one, and that itself takes a good hour to smoke. On a long night at club, I’ll maybe have a second, but then I’m completely done, and any more would make me horribly nauseous. All that said, there’s a reason the club limits this to a once-a-week activity – any more would simply be too much for a lot of our tastes, and I know I would not attend a second weekly meeting. Therefore, any arguments against the frequent exposure of cigarette smokers aren’t really relevant to this situation.

    “The majority of individuals who choose to smoke cigars don’t breathe in the smoke as deeply.”

    I don’t know a single person who inhales AT ALL, and if they do accidentally (usually the novices make this mistake once or twice), they’re reduced to a fit of coughing violent enough to discourage them from trying it again. Just something for you to consider with your argument.

    And finally, I’d point out that after years being a regular at this club, I have never once felt a craving for nicotine, even over vacations and summer-long hiatuses. This club does not in any way promote frequent enough exposure for most people to develop a nicotine addiction.

    I honestly do respect everyone’s devoted concern to the health of the nation, but we at club are all well aware of the risks of smoking, and any more provided information is simply beating a dead horse rather than productive.

    Finally, I would appreciate it if everyone (as most people have thus far admirably done) would keep their criticism to the activity itself and not the people. I doubt any of the nay-sayers have actually met any of those pictured or quoted, so any comments about them only come off as naive and immature.

  • Cigar Inspector on 05.05.2013 at 10:47 am

    Excellent initiative. Don’t listen to those that can’t enjoy the finest things in life – a couple of cigars per week in good company won’t make us die young.
    Way to go BU CAS!

  • Rob on 02.19.2014 at 12:42 pm

    Yeah thats true. When smoking ciggar you can feel like a boss :)

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