When cigar lounge Casa de Montecristo opened in the middle of the pandemic, the store believed its biggest challenge would be COVID-19 restrictions.

They had an impact, but as things return back to normal, the business faced another problem: supply chain issues. Many of the cigar bays in the humidor are empty. A sign at the counter warns people about shortages.

“The increase of popularity and demand has definitely also put a strain in the availability,” Casa de Montecristo Manhattan branch general manager Rafael Nodal said.

The Cigar Association found that 2020 shipments were up 7 percent year-over-year. The latest data through the third quarter of 2021, however, shows a 48.5 percent increase, noted Cigar Aficionado Editor-in-Chief David Savona.

“We could be hitting a number that we haven't seen in decades in the cigar business,” he said.

A survey conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill among cigar smokers found that while the majority said they intended to quit smoking because of health concerns related to COVID-19, twice as many of them actually reported smoking more tobacco during the pandemic than before it.

Casa de Montecristo’s Nodal said he’s noticed more smokers — especially younger, first-time smokers — stopping by. Instead of just celebrating special occasions like graduations and new babies, he sees people who want cigars for everyday life. He calls cigars an "affordable luxury," meaning with great options in the $20 price range it won’t set you back that much if you want to have a smoke.

"[They’re] buying cigars to smoke at their home while passing time, to find something to do during these tough times," he said.  

But manufacturers are having a hard time keeping up with the boom in popularity. The cigar-making process is mostly done by hand, from picking the leaves to rolling, but COVID-19-related restrictions meant fewer workers, a trend all industries faced globally.

Supply chain issues have hurt rollers' ability to get things like plastic wrappers and label bands that usually come from Europe. On top of that, global warming has affected many tobacco farms, with flooding leading to fewer viable crops.

"Things have just been backing up," Cigar Aficionado's Savona said. "And people have taken dramatic measures to try to speed along the process."

The industry is confident it will be able to bounce back. In the meantime, Casa de Montecristo’s Nodal encourages customers to relax and smoke what they can.

"Especially in a place like this: having a good time, having a smoke with friends watching the game, having a cocktail," he said.

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