What a wonderful opportunity to speak to one of our own, a true New Yorker about her love for cigars. Elizabeth Santos, or as shes known on Instagram @remarkable_Liz, is a devoted wife, and a mother to 3 beautiful kids, and a well versed cigar aficionada. The cigar world has so many confident and knowledgeable women, it is our utmost pleasure to have the opportunity to share their stories.
Please tell us who you are and how you first got into cigars? Do you remember your first?
ES: My name is Elizabeth Santos (aka Liz) I was born in New York but raised in the Dominican Republican (Santiago). When I was 13 my parents decided to move back to New York (Sunset Park, Brooklyn). I was raised in a mostly non-smoking family. I am a mother of three boys.
My husband is a cigar smoker. Always saw the passion and how he loves smoking. At the beginning I didn’t feel any interest in smoking until he brought me a pack of Titiana flavored cigars and I enjoyed it. One day our friend Andrew (IG: Aestop_villigercigars) introduced me to the Ashton Senoritas Cigars, next thing I know, I graduated to mild- full body cigars. I never knew cigars will become a passion but the more I smoked the more I wanted to know about it.
When and where do you like to smoke the most? Also what is your favorite cigar at the moment?
ES: My life can be a bit stressful, so at night time after I put my kids to bed, I like to smoke on the porch of my house. Feels warm, cozy and quiet; just me and the cigar. I can enjoy the flavors and the aroma of the tobacco. I love it when my thoughts and the cigar become one. Even though, lately I have found myself smoking in the morning for breakfast (great way to start my day).
My favorite cigar at this moment is La flor Dominicana (LFD) Ligero, Villiger La Flor de Ynclan and Montecristo.
The tobacco industry has been for the longest time heavily dominated by men, but in the last 20 years we have seen a big movement by women who enjoy cigars. What do you think is responsible for this movement?
ES: Times have changed, women empowerment is essential today because earlier, women were not allowed to receive higher education, the society was very closed minded and the times were different. But now that has changed. We have the education, confidence, courage, determination and freedom to choose what we may do with regards to our private and professional choices.
Now, we see more women in the cigar industry, involved in the family business. Like Nirka Reyes Estrella (admiration) an entrepreneur who belongs to the sixth generation of Reyes. Also, great example is the Fuentes family we have Liana Fuentes (vice president brand development) and Cynthia Fuente (First lady of Cigars). Also, we see woman owners of cigars shops and more women smoking cigars every day. Women are more open to try new things and to feel more independent on their choices without being criticized for doing a “man” thing such as smoking a cigar.
What would you say attracts you to cigars and the cigar world?
ES: What attracts me the most to cigars is that is part of a ritual; from the moment you sit to light your cigar, to your last draw. Every cigar is different. Even when you buy a box of cigar they are not all the same, each cigar is so special.
As much as I enjoy smoking cigars for relaxation the world of cigars bring so many people together. When you are in the cigar lounge we are all there for the same purpose “Enjoy a Cigar” it’s like we all become one and also get to know more people, and discover other cigars and get recommendations.
What is your favorite vitola? Is there also a particular origin of tobacco you prefer more than the other and why?
ES: I do not have a specific vitola. I enjoy a Petite Corona in the morning or a torpedo at night. To be honest I enjoy all tobacco. If have to choose one I will say Dominican tobacco. The cigars that I like at this moment are from the Dominican Republic.
What are the big tobacco brands doing wrong when trying to market cigars to women?
ES: I believe the retailers have more to do with this than the tobacco brands. I believe if the cigar shops and lounge owners made some changes in creating a more welcoming environment for women, especially those that are new to the cigar community. It can be a very intimidating experience for some who don’t know what to expect or how to act around a male-dominated lounge. Also, we don’t have to be addressed in a different way than man, we want to be treated the same as any other male smoker. Don’t assume because I am a female I want certain flavors or strength of a premium hand-rolled cigar. All that needs to be done is ask and don’t assume anything.
Thoughts on Cuban Cigars vs New World Cigars?
ES: We need to get back were everything started in Cuba. Until 1960; Cuba had a monopoly on premium cigar tobacco because no one else in the world was growing it. It was only after 1960, when many Cuban people, including some of the country’s most respected tobacco growers and cigar masters left Cuba; that premium tobacco was cultivated in other countries such as the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. Some Caribbean and Central American countries have soils very similar to Cuba’s, and although not exactly the same, they can produce tobaccos that are equally rich in flavor, strength and depth.
But to be clear, because the soil imparts the flavor, nothing tastes like a Cuban cigar other than a Cuban cigar, just as nothing tastes like a Dominican cigar except a Dominican cigar.
What advice would you offer other novice women who are trying to get into the cigar world?
ES: I always suggest starting with a mild or flavored cigar so they can get the hang of smoking. For beginners, I like the typical Tatiana or Villiger mini cigarillo vanilla. Don’t feel afraid to ask questions or try new cigars. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel intimidated, we all start somewhere and learn in the process.
The Instagram cigar community is knowledgeable and very inclusive with popular tags such as #botl (brother of the leaf) and #sotl (sister of the leaf). What is it about the culture and the group aspect of cigars that everyone finds so appealing?
ES: This is a big family we all share the same passion and love for cigars. When I started posting cigars photos in Instagram, I noticed the comment “sotl” &”botl”, it made me feel like I was welcomed to the cigar culture. Especially from the sisters of the leaf, I just love seeing us women working/ supporting each other.
If you could smoke one cigar for the rest of your life which one would you choose?
ES: This is hard but if I have to choose will be La flor Dominicana (LFD).
Are you currently involved in any ventures in the cigar industry we should know about?
ES: There are some projects coming up with the cigar industry. Stay tuned
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
ES: Cigars are works of art that bring everyone together. Stay humble, stay focused and of course stay smoking. BE REMARKABLE!! I want to thank you for this interview.