by Jon Surmacz

Where There’s Smoke, There’s an Online Community

Jan 15, 20032 mins

There is no middle ground when it comes to cigars. People either love them?especially after a good meal or with fine whiskey?or hate them because of the way they stink up a room. Clearly, the readers of Cigar Aficionado magazine are in the former camp. In fact, nearly 7,000 people (many of them subscribers to the magazine) are active participants in the magazine’s online forums (www.cigaraficionado .com). Regulars post items daily on topics like where to buy premium cigars and the finer points of enjoying a good smoke.

To coincide with the 10th anniversary of the magazine, and to accommodate the increasing volume of members and message traffic, David Savona, director of Cigar Aficionado Online, and his team overhauled the online forums in one month, installing Ultimate Bulletin Board software from Seattle-based Infopop in May 2002. Members had to reregister and acquaint themselves with the new interface. The change upset many of the regulars, Savona says, but the smoke from the dissenters soon cleared.

Savona says the forums are valuable as an informal polling device for demographic information as well as giving editors ideas about coverage in the magazine. “We’re not even a year into the new forums right now, and it’s beyond our wildest expectations,” he says. “It’s been a pleasant surprise. We’re only really beginning to explore the things that we can do with this community and website.”

Lately, the online discussions have turned political. In the weeks leading up to Election Day 2002, when many communities, including several in Florida, considered ballot questions that would ban smoking in bars and restaurants. Forum members fervently opposed such laws, insisting the matter was more about personal choice than public health. “They are very big on smoking rights,” Savona says. “They discuss that quite a lot.”

Savona and the forum members are now planning more “freedom of choice” advocacy. In the last elections, Amendment 6, an addendum to the Florida state constitution that will prohibit smoking in virtually all indoor public places (including bars and restaurants), passed by an overwhelming majority of 71 percent. Nothing fires up a bunch of cigar smokers more than telling them they can’t light up.