D. Davis, A. Ramanarayanan

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The cigar smoker often glorifies the satisfaction that his habit brings him. It is a pleasant hobby and allots a time for relaxation and contemplation. Yet, we asked ourselves, must cigarettes be excluded from this honorable category? Clearly, they are different beasts in flavor, method (inhaling cigar smoke is never a pleasant experience; it is, of course, to be kept in the mouth), and appropriateness.

The cigarette may be profitably judged on a number of criteria: Most clearly, it must be flavorful, i.e. with a pleasing taste and goût to the smoker. One prefers, clearly the aroma of select tobacco leaves and not filler, stems, and chemical treatment. All of these latter can contribute to a harsh and acerbic smoke. On the contrary, while the taste is expected to be mild and flavorful, the cigarette must not fail to be powerful and strong in its effect (linked, most substantially, to nicotine content) to provide a satisfying complement to its flavor. In light of this, we set out in search of a superior marque of cigarette.

As a control, Dunhill was selected for its reputation as a superior performer in each category. The cigarettes themselves are substantial in length and breadth, and pleasantly powerful. When smoked, they are substantially flavorful, and not at all harsh. The "superior mild" Dunhills are perhaps even more flavorful than the standard "international" blend, if a bit less powerful. In many ways, Dunhill was more than simply a "control" against which we might measure other brands: In effect, we wished to determine if it could indeed be called "king of cigarettes."

In the process of this experiment, many brands came under scrutiny; perhaps too many to adequately treat each one here. A brief commentary on a number of them seems appropriate, however. First we touch on the "losers"; cigarettes that simply failed to meet our expectations. Rothmans, similar to Dunhill in form, construction, and packaging, are ultimately an inferior imitation. They are overly harsh and lack any personality (i.e., unique characteristics) of their own. Davidoff, the acclaimed maker of cigars and cologne, also failed to please. Their "supreme Virginia" magnums, priced to sell at around $7.50 per pack, are large in size but largely bland and unmemorable, proving that general reputation isn't always trustworthy. On a more humble level, the omnipresent Marlboro Lights were not only unsatisfying but nigh on intolerable. Nondescript, flavorless, and unexciting, one reviewer chose to extinguish his soon after commencing the smoke. (Full flavor Marlboros, it should be noted, are somewhat tolerable, though uninspiring, often leaving a lingering aftertaste that gives the sensation that one has licked an ashtray.) In fact, as it turned out, most of the 100's (referring to the length of the cigarette) were more or less execrable. Camel 100's, unlike the rest of the Camel line, were unpleasant in a manner similar to Marlboro Lights. Benson & Hedges 100's come in a shimmering gold package with the words "Park Avenue, New York" inscribed upon it. Despite the packaging, they give a solid impression that one is smoking cardboard.

We now move to the less mediocre contenders--those brands that were not particularly offensive, yet failed to impress. Canadians seem to have a knack for making such a cigarette; Export A, du Maurier, and Craven A, three brands made by our northerly neighbors, all contend fairly well with their everyday American counterparts (Marlboro, Camel, etc.); however, priced about the same as Dunhill, they each lack the latter's harmonious synergy of flavor, smoothness, and potency. The German Bottschafter provides a cigarette that, while flavorful, lacks substance, and gives the feeling of inhaling air (which can be ameliorated, somewhat, by breaking off the filter). In stark contrast, the French Gaulois and Gitanes give an overly harsh, nearly unpleasant, smoke. This harshness, presumably a result of the composition of tobacco used, makes a more tolerable appearance in Ducados, a Spanish cigarette featuring "state of the art" filter technology and a taste that can be described only as "rooty."

While Dunhill ultimately maintains its superiority over all brands tested, a few deserve praise for close contention. Major, an Irish brand, packs much flavor into its dwarfed "extra size" cigarettes; we also applaud the originality of their health warnings, e.g. "Smokers Die Younger." The elusive Shepheard's Hotel, which disappeared from all store shelves for several months, certainly redeems the shortcomings of its aforementioned German partner, Bottschafter. Nat Sherman, made in New York, despite its mediocre line of "Queen Sized" cigarettes, comes through with its "Classics," which satisfy almost as well as Dunhill. Nat Sherman also merits exceptional praise for its mint version of the Classics; characterized by natural mint flavor, they far surpass the competition of other flavored cigarettes, including chemical menthols, honey roasted tobacco, and Sweet Dreams cherry cigarettes. Despite all the efforts to find a regularly available match for Dunhill, a true contender was not found until one reviewer, while in Belgium, came upon Ziganov, a Russian brand that has not been seen for sale anywhere in this country. Ziganov's black cigarettes provide a flavor that is quite different from Dunhill's, and even thought by some to be better. While a full comparison would require more access to these newly discovered gems, just a brief sampling of Ziganov gave enough evidence that, though Dunhill has not been bested, a worthy competitor has earned an honorable second place ranking.

To sum up (and to give mention to a few brands that didn't quite fall into the above three categories):

Best overall cigarette: Dunhill International

Best flavored/menthol cigarette: Nat Sherman Mint

Best unfiltered cigarette: Tekel (a Turkish cigarette with the richness of a soufflé)

Worst value: Davidoff Supreme Virginia

Induce vomiting after smoking: Marlboro Light 100's.

We give our sincerest thanks to the proprietors of Nite and Day Foods and Harper Foods for their wide selections of cigarettes, as well as their patience and guidance.