Cigars, once banned, fire up troop morale in Afghanistan
Whatever their reasons for starting, military, civilian and contractor members of the Tali-banned Cigar Aficionado Club here say it’s more than a nicotine fix. It’s a bond of friendship, an escape from the drudgery of deployed life and a taste of home.
The group takes its name from the fact that the Islamist Taliban had once forbidden smoking, among a list of social ills including television and the internet. But the Kabul club revels in the vice, which builds community and remains popular among the troops despite efforts by military brass to snuff it out.
If the Taliban banned television, I suppose it must have been a telly-ban(!). And isn’t it so interesting that the Taliban and ISIL share the same values as Tobacco Control. They are birds of a feather.
It’s not clear how or when cigars became such a part of military life, but Storm Boen of Operation: Cigars for Warriors, a Florida nonprofit that sends care packages of free premium smokes to deployed U.S. service members, said the charity’s research found that they were requested more than any other item.
Since May 2012, the group of 389 volunteers, which had relied on donated cigars from manufacturers before the practice was outlawed this year, has sent more than 700,000 free cigars to deployed troops — all by request.
It’s always seemed perfectly obvious to me why soldiers smoke: fighting wars is a high stress occupation, and smoking relieves stress. Of course soldiers will smoke. And if they can’t smoke tobacco, they’ll smoke something else.
What may make cigars especially coveted, Boen said, is that unlike a cup of their favorite java from home — the second-most requested item in his research — consumed as a part of a daily routine, a stogie is often enjoyed socially and has the effect of briefly “stopping time.”
A retired Army first sergeant, Boen said he started Cigars for Warriors because smoking the rolls of tobacco had been an important part of how he and his troops came together to decompress, celebrate a victory or have frank discussions.
“Stopping time” is interesting. It’s not something I’ve experienced. Cigarettes don’t have that effect on me.
But maybe cigars actually do “stop time.” And pipes as well. Both deliver considerably more smoke than a single cigarette does.
I very seldom smoke cigars. They’re quite expensive. It took me about three quarters of an hour to smoke a large cigar sat out on the lawn in Devon one summer a few years back. It left me quite light-headed. Pipes have a similar effect. Maybe time did stop, sat out on the lawn that day? I certainly remember it well.
I must re-activate my pipe. I tried smoking a pipe for a while, but I found it too difficult and demanding. A pipe always seems to be needing to be re-lighted. And it’s a big heavy thing. And I have no idea what to do with it when I’m not smoking it. If I put it down, it rolls over and deposits its contents on the table. I don’t know why pipes aren’t designed with flat bottoms so that they’ll stay upright. Einstein kept his pipe in his jacket pocket, so his pockets must have been full of ash and little bits of paper with e=mc² written on them.
Cigarettes aren’t so demanding. You can hold a cigarette between fingers or lips. And if they go out – and roll-ups often do – they’re easy to relight. And they can be parked more or less anywhere, although best of all on ashtrays.
But pipe smoke is actually better than tobacco smoke. It’s richer and more powerful and pungent. And maybe when you smoke a pipe, time really does stop for a while.