Cigars international in East Allen Township donating 18,000 cigars to U.S. troops serving abroad
E. ALLEN TWP. | Staff Sgt. Kurt Johnson still remembers his first smoke in Iraq.
After a particularly stressful patrol, he said his fellow soldiers in the U.S. Army received a surprise donation of cigars.
They set up some lawn chairs they found lying around, lit up their cigars and, without saying a word, started smoking in the desert.
"It was a chance to just spend time with one another and not think about what was going on," said Johnson, currently serving with the Bethlehem Recruiting Station. "It kind of gives you a sense of being back home."
Cigars International will ship 18,000 cigars to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the largest single donation by the township-based cigar manufacturer.
The donation amounts to $65,000 worth of cigars, not including shipping costs, company spokeswoman Debi Lehr said.
"If you enjoy cigars now and then and you've been overseas and under duress, it's nice to have a little treat like this," said Keith Meier, president of Cigars International.
Deborah Brown, an American Lung Association spokeswoman, said such donations are really just a disguised marketing ploy for a product with a documented history of causing health problems.
"We send these products over to our soldiers who are fighting to defend our country and they come back addicted to their product," Brown said. "They're providing them with an unhealthy choice, whether it's donated or whether they have to pay for it."
Meier acknowledged the health questions such donations raise, but said the soldiers and customers alike should smoke the cigars in moderation.
"Some folks think cigars are tobacco and therefore evil, but in truth it's very different," he said. "The average customer has two a week. It's something people enjoy occasionally, similar to a glass of wine."
Sgt. Jeff Herling, originally from Hazleton before he was stationed in Bethlehem, said getting cigars provided a morale booster similar to receiving letters of support.
Herling said half the men in his platoon smoked cigars in Iraq and they would order in bulk because they never knew how long it would take for a shipment to arrive.
"You couldn't exactly walk down to the store or get on the Internet and get them," Herling said. "When we'd get our cigar order in, it was just happiness, you know. It was time to relax."
Cigar International encouraged customers to buy three premium cigars for $5, with the promise of making a matching donation of cigars to the troops.
Advertisements ran in publications ranging from Newsweek to Sports Illustrated, Meier said. The 18,000 cigars were purchased between May 1 and Oct. 1.
They will be distributed to various locations throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, although Lehr did not know the exact locations.
About 5,000 shipments -- mostly boxes of 30 cigars each -- are packaged out of the East Allen Township distribution facility and shipped around the country every day, Meier said.
As Sgt. Steven Brubaker watched the cigars get packaged, he said he was reminded of the first sergeant he had overseas, who always had a cigar in his mouth.
"We'd come together after a mission and push work to the side, sit down and talk about life over cigars," Brubaker said. "You can't beat a free cigar."
Thursday, October 23, 2008