How the Cigar Club at Penn State strives to celebrate ‘cigar culture’
To president Anthony DelPalazzo , the Cigar Club is more than a few people sitting around smoking cigars — it’s about the art and culture of smoking.
This art encompasses the leaves used in the cigars, what the “flavor profiles” are, and the practice itself of rolling a cigar, while also appreciating the process the cigar underwent to ultimately land on the shelf.
More than that, DelPalazzo (junior-nuclear engineering) said cigars act as a way to build conversations.
“You might find yourself relighting the cigar over and over and over again, because you just get to talk with people,” he said. “And it’s kind of that conversation piece. The one commonality in the cigar shop is we all smoke cigars, so we all already start at a base point where we’re the same.”
The club is made up of 12 “consistent” members. Though only one of them is a woman, DelPalazzo said the club is not exclusive to men. The club is not currently recognized by the university.
Meetings are held every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Your Cigar Den, located on Calder Way.
Club members are only required to attend one meeting a month, and DelPalazzo said they try to focus that meeting on the educational value of cigars.
“So we all smoke the same cigar,” he said. “We vote on it beforehand, and we all smoke it and talk about what kind of tastes we’re getting and what leaf it is, what binder it is, stuff like that.”
Both DelPalazzo and the vice president of the club, Robert Finkelston, work at Your Cigar Den, which is owned by Tony Ghaffari .
Ghaffari became involved with Penn State’s cigar club four and a half years ago when two of his employees wanted to reach the student community. Now, Ghaffari hosts club meetings and offers members a 10 percent discount on all Your Cigar Den purchases.
Ghaffari said he enjoys working with college students because he gets to help them develop skills they otherwise might not have gained, especially regarding the members who work in the shop, as well. For many of them, it’s their first retail job.
“After about six months to a year,” Ghaffari said, “they’re totally different, they’ve grown in that realm. And to me, that’s really rewarding.”
Finkelston (junior-electrical engineering) said he finds the opportunity to be part of the club and also work at the shop rewarding because of the interactions he’s able to have.
“It’s really the conversations, it’s meeting people. It’s making connections,” he said. “Life is all about connections and, really, [with] cigars, it’s an avenue to sit down and to talk with people.”
Though all three men value cigars and the relationships they’ve built around them, they acknowledged there are more difficult aspects about cigar culture.
Many nonsmokers often put cigars, cigarettes and other tobacco products in the same category, according to Ghaffari.
While cigarettes are “cancer sticks,” Ghaffari called cigars more natural.
“When you look at a cigar, what I am smoking is 100 percent tobacco leaf,” he said. “I can take one of these, and I’ll break it open, you can see the leaf. That’s all it is. And there’s a huge difference.”
When people don’t distinguish between tobacco products, rules and laws are created that aren’t fitting for all products, Ghaffari said.
“Whether it’s president Baron at the university with the new smoking ban, or it’s the FDA trying to attack all tobacco products, there is definitely different segments of the tobacco industry that need to be treated differently,” he said.
Ghaffari said this is evident in Penn State’s AD32 Smoking and Tobacco Policy.
The policy prohibits smoking and the use of tobacco on all university owned or leased properties, facilities and vehicles.
According to the policy page, “Smoking includes the burning of any type of lit pipe, cigar, cigarette or any other smoking equipment, whether filled with tobacco or any other type of material.”
DelPalazzo said because of this policy, they’ve had trouble even getting the club recognized. He’s tried to change the name of the club to focus more on the educational and cultural aspects, but still, DelPalazzo said they haven’t had any luck.
“We were very, very much trying to get the club re-recognized with the university,” DelPalazzo said. “We were calling it the ‘International Artisanal Cigar Culture Club.’ It wasn’t just the cigar club. It was the culture behind it. And I think that the AD32 policy put a real nail in the coffin on not being able to be recognized.”