Cigars and Pollen: Some Survival Tips

Or, A Few Reasons to Smoke through Allergy Season.

It’s been a long, cold winter. No matter what the calendar says, it feels like it isn’t quite over yet. In fact, as I write this, the temperature outside is just above freezing. But spring is starting to break winter’s icy grip. I’ve seen a few days this month get into the high sixties. The warmer days have been a welcome break, but they have brought with them a tiny menace called pollen.

I live in Atlanta, or as it has been called, “The City of Trees” a nickname it shares with 21 other cities around the world, according to Wikipedia. That means two things, it’s a pretty nice looking city with ample greenery and it’s annually inundated with dense pollen. Depending on the time of year, someone with allergies like myself may suffer inflamed sinuses and sneezing fits, or we may have to squeegee a layer of yellow-green dust off our windshields to drive. (You thought flowers and weeds were bad?) Sometimes both.

Understandably, this can have a negative impact on the enjoyment of your cigar, especially if you smoke outside. Sneezing and watering eyes aside, air-borne allergens can seriously impair both your senses of taste and smell, both important to the full appreciation of fine tobacco. But it doesn’t have to. Here are a few strategies I’ve come up with over the years to minimize discomfort and maximize the enjoyment of lighting one up during the pollen season.

Take Your Allergy Meds
I’m not a doctor, but if your cigars taste right and sneezing or other symptoms are your main concern, taking whatever your legally acceptable medical advice-giver tells you to take for allergies may be all you need. You probably already knew that and are doing it. Mazel tov. If you’re not a fan of relief in tablet form, I know people who swear by eating locally produced honey. The theory is it’ll help you build up an immunity to the local strains of pollen. I can’t promise it’ll work, and it may be too late start with pollen season upon us, but I’ll bet that antihistamine tastes a lot better covered in honey.

Smoke At Your Cigar Shop
Cigar shops don’t always have the best ventilation or air filtration, but they have the benefit of being indoors. And that means less airborne pollen, even if it’s only slightly less. The leather chairs, comradarie (or television) and close proximity to a well-stocked humidor is nice as well. You’re buying your cigars there, why not take advantage of the facilities?

Smoke Indoors
Finding a place to smoke that isn’t a cigar shop is increasingly difficult as smoking bans continue to go up around the country. If you live in an area that still allows bars and restaurants to decide for themselves if they want to allow smoking, then by all means support the establishments that do. In fact, do so even when plant reproductive dust isn’t weighing heavily upon your sinuses. These places are rare gems that should be cherished while they last.

On the other hand if smoking indoors means smoking at home (still legal most places), here are a few pointers to prevent your house from smelling like an ashtray:
– Dispatch of your cigar butts quickly. This is the single most important thing you can do to eliminate potent stale cigar aroma.
– Pick a room without carpet, if possible. Carpet, not unlike tobacco is a sponge and absorbs everything around it, including the aroma of smoke. A closed garage with a concrete floor is pretty ideal.
– Look into air purification. You can buy inexpensive units at many stores, or you can buy a unit geared toward the cigar smoker like the one Mike reviewed a few years ago. Or you can go all Walt-Gyver on it and strap a air conditioning filter to a box fan.

I read recently that there isn’t a magical place out there somewhere, free of pollen and other allergens. Talk about a letdown, I guess I’ll just have to retire in Florida like everyone else. But here’s the thing, pollen doesn’t hit everywhere at the same time or with same intensity. If you have the vacation time (and the money) why not plan your time off for when pollen is at its worst where you live? Sure, we can’t all just up and leave when we start sneezing. But if an allergy map like this one says you’re only a few hours drive from less pollinated locale, a week (or even a weekend) away during the thick of it may mean relief punctuated with the aroma of premium tobacco.

Smoke At Night
OK, you can’t smoke at your cigar shop, you can’t smoke indoors anywhere because your spouse (or Johnny Law) has forbidden it and you can’t hop on the next plane to hypoallergenic Shangri-La. It’s time to hedge your bets. It’s time to light one up after the sun goes down. Why? Because the sun has what plants crave: light and heat. When plants have light and heat they spew their tiny reproductive powder into the air. When the sun goes down they stop, and all that sneeze dust settles to the earth. You, on the other hand, enjoy the sun but aren’t controlled by it. And you really want fine tobacco. It’s a simple scheduling problem. Let the trees, flowers and everything else the hippies want to hug have the daylight hours, and you can light up once the powdered free love has settled to the ground. I can’t promise a perfect smoking experience, but in my experience smoking at night beats the heck out of burning one midday during pollen season. But watch out for the wind. If it kicks up all bets are off.

Chime In: How do you deal with pollen season?
Don’t be shy, if you have a tip, we want to hear it!