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Cigars and Style: No Ifs or Butts

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Recent years have not been kind to smokers.

The acrid smoke of cigarettes, their dangerously negative health effects and the malodorous imprint which nicotine leaves even on the clothes of those who don't deliberately choose to inhale are all cited as reasons why smoking is no longer cool or clever.

Worldwide cigarette sales continue to climb with sales in the UK alone in 2010 put at £12.8 billion ($19.8 billion). However, ever-tightening restrictions on how they're marketed and where they can be smoked suggest that the golden age of cigarettes is now just an ash-filled distant memory.

There is one tobacco product, though, which retains its allure. The perfumed smoke wafting from a cigar is, for many people, almost as much a part of the Christmas tradition as turkey and carols even though they possess a year-'round appeal for some individuals too.

As a non-smoker and someone who considers herself a student of presentation, I have found myself wondering why cigars continue to elicit almost a romantic response and cigarettes do not; why one butt not the other, if you will.

The answer, I believe, lies in what the respective tobacco-filled tubes say about the person smoking them.

Cigarettes are the nicotine equivalent of a burger - consumed quickly, with the remnants discarded on our city streets, and irritatingly more-ish to those addicted to them even though they are bad for their health.

Cigars, on the other hand, inspire the ritual, recognition and appreciation also found among connoisseurs of fine wine or whisky. Cigar afficionados are intimately familiar with the characteristics of shape, smell and taste of the different wrappers, fillers and binders that make up their 'smoke'.

They know that smoking involves a degree of storage and preparation which borders on the religious, in the same way as those who savour their burgundy or single malts.

They understand something else, though, something perhaps explained by the actor Jack Nicholson who, when explaining his decision to swap cigarettes for cigars, stated: " The only way to break a bad habit was to replace it with a better habit".

Cigars signify status and success. In sport, business, entertainment and politics. Through the ages, more stars than Nicholson have fallen under their spell, regardless of their cost and the complications they cause. One, his fellow American, the late President John F Kennedy, imposed a trade embargo against Fidel Castro's Communist regime in 1962, but only after he'd received a stock of 1,200 petit coronas from Cuba, a country whose reputation is permanently linked to the wisps of smoke from the tens of millions of cigars it produces each year.

It was perhaps fitting that one of many CIA attempts to assassinate Castro involved trying to get him to smoke one of their exploding cigars, the sort of escapade which only added to the mystery and intrigue which they suggest.

The roll-call of famous current cigar lovers includes Tom Cruise and Leonardo di Caprio, Arnold Schwarzenegger and David Beckham while previous generations have numbered Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin. I'm naturally interested, though, in women who opt for cigars and why they do so.

Demi Moore, for instance, declared breathlessly: "There's something about smoking a cigar that feels like a celebration".

For me, there are two types of female cigar smokers. The first, like Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Lopez, seem entirely comfortable with the process and the protocol. For them, wielding a Montecristo or Romeo y Julieta is certainly not unnatural but, if anything, chic and stylish.

There are others, though, for whom a cigar is nothing but a prop, something frivolous with which to make a statement not of status but sexuality, playing on a slightly tired fantasy for some men. By being seen as undermining the cult of the cigar, whether intentionally or not, they not only annoy devotees but can succeed in making themselves look somehow cheap.

Whenever I'm asked about what smoking can do to how someone presents themselves, I always stress that it's better not to smoke at all. However, clients who need their nicotine fix acknowledge my advice that cigars are certainly considered more stylish than cigarettes whether one is at sitting in the boardroom or comfortably at home.