This interview was held by cigar blogger and Cigar Journal tasting panelist Cem Erten and first appeared at www.ellector.info.
Although cigar smoking is more associated with gentlemen, we see more and more ladies not only as smokers but also working in the cigar industry.
When it comes to cigars, Franca Comparetto is one of the most enthusiastic ladies I have met so far. She has kindly accepted my offer for the interview and shared so much about herself and her cigar smoking pleasure as well as Cigar Sense, a unique site that helps cigar smokers, as well as producers when it comes to smoking and producing.
Cem Erten: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Franca Comparetto: I am Italian, living in the United States since 2013. I created and co-founded Cigar Sense, the online service which helps cigar lovers find new cigars to try based on their unique tastes, and now also helping cigar manufacturers taking cigar lovers’ preferences into account in their decision making.
I also love boating, hiking, biking and being active in animal welfare matters. I recently secured agreement from Save Mart (a big grocery store chain in the United States) to stop selling live lobsters and remove the lobster tanks from the Carson area stores 😊
C.E.: How did you start smoking cigars?
F.C.: I fell in love with my first premium cigar about 15 years ago. It was a Romeo y Julieta Churchill. I was so impressed that I decided to learn as much as I could about these amazing products. I joined a club, the PuroMotivo Cigar Club of Torino, Italy, and met many interesting people, who became classmates at Catadores classes. Some of them are now also colleagues in the cigar industry.
C.E.: Do you smoke mostly among men or women?
F.C.: I love to smoke with both whenever possible. I try to entice women and it’s always fascinating to see how sensitive their noses are. It’s true, most of the people who regularly smoke in my surroundings are men and I accept this as a reality while wishing it could evolve more quickly.
C.E.: What was the most interesting reaction of a man seeing you smoke a cigar? Can you share an anecdote?
F.C.: I like to observe people and I must say the most interesting reactions are the ones from open-minded men, who show interest in me as a smoking “buddy” and in my work. The one unfortunate occasion I remember was when I went to a San Jose (California) cigar store to buy a box of Opus X’s. It took me a moment to understand the guy’s answer: “We don’t keep’em, we ship’em back”. He thought I wanted an empty box and severely risked to lose the sale.
C.E.: When and where do you like to smoke the most?
F.C.: Currently I end up smoking before meals and in my own office/lounge or on the boat most of the time, so I can focus on the cigars. I enjoy other lounges of course, but then I focus on the people I meet rather than on the cigar.
C.E.: How many cigars do you smoke per month?
F.C.: It varies. I think in average it’s about 15. When I smoke more, I take a break of some days afterwards. I want to make sure my senses are receptive when I resume.
C.E.: What attracts you to cigars and to the cigar world?
F.C.: I find the cigar world by itself well deserves being discovered. In addition, I like to leverage the relaxation and enjoyment that cigars offer as a way to communicate with my inner world. You could say I like to meditate with a cigar. But also the sensory perceptions that a cigar elicits in us are a whole world that deserves attention, just like in the world of fine food or beverages. Although I am not a great social smoker, I like the camaraderie that comes so naturally among cigar lovers.
C.E.: Any cigar magazines you follow?
F.C.: I read any magazine, as long as I can understand the language in which it is printed. As a woman, I feel respected and well represented by Cigar Journal: in the whole collection I have built in years, I haven’t seen there any non-sponsored content that would picture women in obsolete sexist behaviors.
C.E.: What is your favorite vitola?
F.C.: My favorite cigars have small to medium ring gauge. I smoke anything above 56 RG solely for work. My favorite cigar lengths vary based on the time I have available. Ideally, I smoke lonsdales or coronas.
C.E.: How would you choose your cigars?
F.C.: I have always been choosing the cigars I appreciate in my leisure time uniquely based on their gustatory profiles. What I like is not necessarily what you like because taste depends on our cultural background and on our experiences, and it can change overtime. The more we are aware of what we like or do not like, the more we have opportunities to discover new cigars that we’ll love. This is why I created Cigar Sense: to help cigar lovers simplify their quest and reduce the frustrating and expensive trial and error, so our precious time can be fully dedicated to the actual enjoyment of our cigars.
C.E.: Are you a member in any cigar club? If yes, what is the % of women members?
F.C.: I am currently still a member of the PuroMotivo Cigar Club of Torino in my home country. Years back when I joined I was the only woman, but this is no longer the case. I have also been member of the Ohlone Cigar Lounge in Fremont, California, where female attendance was around 5-10%. I think that women’s participation varies from town to town. There are lounges where women are very well included and that is where I wish all lounges and clubs would be.
C.E.: Do you travel related to cigars?
F.C.: I do. Currently less for consumer events and more for trade-shows. I love InterTabac in Germany and IPCPR in the US. I am planning to participate in other trade-shows in other countries too.
C.E.: How do you think women smokers could make their stand against men in the cigar world?
F.C.: It is thanks to women that some practices or knowledge connected to the premium cigar world are now being recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage (UNESCO). See Ria Bos with cigar rolling in the Netherlands and Maya Selva with long-fillers in Honduras. In spite of this, there is still a polarization in the industry. I like to think about it this way: The more cigars are associated with luxury commodities and conspicuous consumption, the more frequently we might see women’s bodies also considered as objects. When cigars are more related to an inconspicuous type of consumption, then more intangible aspects appear in the conversation and here it’s probably where women can express their knowledge, skills and natural sensitivity at best. It fully depends on us, women. Men will behave consequently, depending on how we, women, want them to treat us.
C.E.: Thoughts on Cuban vs New World cigars?
F.C.: I think today there are many wonderful cigars in the world, regardless of their country of origin. I have a lot of respect for those professionals who had their assets confiscated, fled Cuba, started all over and channeled their anger into new works of art, in their new legacies which are now important productions outside of Cuba. I feel empathy for them because my grandfather also had his house confiscated during World War II. Of course, this is not about cigars and factories, but honor, dignity and a lot of courage unite people who refuse to bend to despotism. The quality of a cigar depends on soil, climate, tobacco, weather, priming, curing, fermenting, aging, rolling, aging again. The ancient Cuban tradition is now also in many different skilled hands and brains residing in many different countries. For consumers it’s a question of personal taste, for manufacturers it’s a question of survival, liberation, re-living. Such manufacturers are now competing with a generation of newly inspired young producers. I think the market is currently offering a very wide variety of great cigars for passionados to try and fully enjoy. I wish everyone to be successful in expressing the best of themselves.
C.E.: Anything you would like to add?
F.C.: I would love to thank you for this interview. It is an honor for me and a promise for all to see you asking women what they think about this marvelous industry. A blogger like you needs a shout out!
C.E.: Thank you Franca once again for the interview and I am sure it has also been an interesting read for every cigar smoker.