Fighting for the rights for cigar smokers is all in a day’s work – certainly for Rocky Patel too. The campaigner for cigar smoker’s rights, is bringing the fight to Europe. Cigar Journal interviews a man on a mission …
Rocky Patel looks tired – there are bags under his eyes and there’s a hint of graying stubble on his boyish cheeks. It’s no surprise; Rocky does everything at full throttle. By the time I grab a coffee with him at the InterTabac trade show in Dortmund, Germany, he has already been to Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Cologne within a week.
I don’t think people realize how close we are to losing our rights and freedom.
The reason he’s on the road – aside from selling his own brand, of course – is that he’s evangelical when it comes to cigars.
“Look,” he says, lighting up a Rocky Patel Edge Corojo. “This is about doing something before it’s too late. We need to make our voices heard. Now.” Like a preacher at his pulpit, Rocky invokes fire and brimstone when he’s on a roll; his passion for his subject is infectious. He’s long been part of the Cigar Rights of America campaign team; lobbying politicians, flying hundreds of thousands of miles a year and acting as a de facto representative of the cigar industry itself.
Now, he says, it’s high time Europe got on board. “There needs to be a concerted effort to come together. It’s the only way we can fight these restrictions on our freedom to enjoy a luxury, premium product,” he says, puffing away. “The thing I come up against most often is ignorance; people don’t realize what the product is. [Cigars] are just lumped together with cigarettes.”
I tell Rocky that I remember smoking a dark, little cigar about 15 years ago in a tiny pub in a fishing village in Cornwall, England. It was an Indian Tabac – Rocky’s first foray into the cigar market. His eyes light up when I recount the tale. “I’ve been in the European market for many years,” he explains. “I always wanted to spread the word and I first started coming to InterTabac years ago. There weren’t that many of us [US manufacturers] coming here back then. Now others have realized that there are a lot of cigar lovers in Europe – and some very cool places to visit.” I can’t imagine that there’s anywhere Rocky hasn’t already been. He’s constantly on the move, rarely at home and always heading out to press the flesh.
“Two-hundred-and-seventy days a year on the road,” he sighs and rasps a hand across his stubble. “It’s tough, but I love it. I’m a chef and I love European food, the delicacy and lightness of it. And I get to meet some great people.”
He’s renowned for being the life and soul of a party. Rocky will be the last man standing, behind the bar, serving the drinks. A few hours later he’ll be handshaking and backslapping with the great and the good of the cigar world, always ready with a quip, and quick to flash his trademark smile.
My Cigar Journal colleague, Guillaume Tesson, told me about a recent memorable night with Rocky in Paris, which began with cigar store visits, Champagne and an Edge 6 x 60 and finished in the wee hours with snails and andouillette.
“It’s great fun, but I admit having trouble going to sleep at night,” Rocky confides. ”I don’t think people realize how close we are to losing our rights and freedom. Once these archaic laws are made, there’s no going back.” Rocky is putting together a team for a Cigar Rights of Europe, or something similar. While the US version has spent years building up a head of steam, the European version is starting from the ground up. There’s a lot of work to do.
“Europe is very much part of our vision. We will continue to make our cigars available to cigar people here and I’ll continue traveling to meet them and making sure that European lawmakers realize what goes into every premium, hand-rolled cigar. They need to know that each cigar passes through more than 200 expert pairs of hands. The smoking of a cigar is a ritual, a pleasure, a relaxation and a choice.”
Amen, Rocky. You’re preaching to the converted.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Winter Edition 2015. Read more