Cigar Etiquette: Should You Be Licking Your Cigars Before Smoking Them?

September 20, 2022

Have you ever seen someone licking the wrapper before lighting their cigar? If the answer is YES, I’ll bet it made you sick to your stomach!

Many smokers, especially long-time enthusiasts, believe they need to lick their cigar to moisten the wrapper and keep it from splitting. It’s fine to take a cold draw after clipping off the cap of a cigar to get a taste of the tobacco in its purest form, but licking it isn’t recommended. A wet cigar, whether licked or dipped in whiskey (another bad common practice), will make the tobacco too soggy and very hard to keep lit.

The tradition of licking the wrapper before lighting is a remnant of a forgotten past when cigars were not humidified properly by importers and shops. Back in the day, the humidifying devices found in cigar shops were not as effective and refined as they are today, and the modus operandi was to use a big slab of moistened clay to keep the cigars fresh. The effectiveness of clay was short-lived, especially in shops located in colder climates, and many cigars became dry to the touch. Hence smokers were encouraged by shopkeepers to lick cigars before lighting up.

Today, licking a cigar before lighting is no longer required (or encouraged) because “good” cigars are aged and shipped perfectly to stores with powerful electronic humidifying devices throughout the building. A properly humidified cigar shop replicates the climate found where most of these Central American tobaccos are grown, which is approximately 68- 70 degrees Fahrenheit and between a 65-72% humidity level.

Even with perfect humidification, some delicate wrappers, such as Cameroon, and certain varietals of Indonesian and Ecuadorian leaves may split. This is especially the case with sudden temperature changes, such as when cigars are smoked outdoors in colder weather or in a room that is air-conditioned. There is a quick impromptu fix for this dilemma, which involves using a dab of ChapStick, Vaseline lip balm, butter, or vegetable shortening. Most expert cigar rollers place a dab of vegetable shortening inside the cap before putting it on top of the cigar.

If you still decide to lick your wrapper before lighting your cigar, do it discreetly by gently putting a dab of saliva on your tongue and placing it over the damaged part of the wrapper. Be forewarned — if you go the other route of sucking your cigar as if it was a Jolly Rancher before placing it in your mouth, you will most certainly make everyone at your favorite cigar lounge avoid you like the plague!


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