- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

CUMBERLAND, Ind. (AP) - Jerica Lowder and Samantha Rees tried their first cigars after a couple of Coronas - and some prodding from their husbands, who were smoking Cuban stogies at a party.

“We shocked the socks off of them,” Lowder, 33, told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1cVlbq4 ). “The love began.”

Now, the two women from Cumberland, a small town east of Indianapolis, smoke two or three cigars a month from their husbands’ stashes.

“There is something rich, relaxing,” Rees, 37, said. “It’s just a soothing thing to do.”

“Actually my husband and I love to smoke them together in the bathtub,” Lowder said.

Cigar smoking conjures up manly images — the velvet jacket, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy clubs, Winston Churchill, Archie Bunker, Mark Twain. But Lowder and Rees are stay-at-home moms, petite women who work out and actually consider themselves “health nuts.”

They’re among a small, but growing percentage of women who are savoring the ritual of a cigar. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Demi Moore, Claudia Schiffer and Heidi Klum have been known to puff on stogies. Manufacturers are marketing flavors such as honey and mocha, and cigar bars and shops are designing experiences with women in mind.

About 2 percent of U.S. women say they smoke cigars, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that’s about 3.2 million women. (In the 1980s, Cigar Aficionado reported, market research showed that women comprised only one-tenth of one percent of the total U.S. cigar market.)

Compare that to the percentage of men who smoke cigars - 9 percent - and women aren’t really that far behind.

There are, of course, all levels of cigar-smoking women, from the ones who light up on special occasions to the routine puffers. The latter would be Barbara Munchel, who calls herself “a dedicated cigar smoker and cigar snob.” She laments the ones “made for women.”

“To me, those are non-cigars,” she said. “The cherry, the vanilla, the honey-flavored cigars. That’s not cigar smoking. I drink my coffee black and I want my cigars to be authentic.”

Munchel is the owner of Cigar Haven in Fishers, a shop with more than 900 varieties. Among the most popular sellers are Blue Mountain, Kristoff and Toraño.

And while Munchel isn’t seeing women pour into the shop, she does have some female regulars.

“Sadly for me, there are not as many women as I would like to see smoking cigars,” she said.

Blend Cigar Bar, which opened in September on 82nd Street, was designed by a woman to appeal to a female clientele. The owners spent $250,000 on a scent system to keep the air well-ventilated. In the elegant lounge, women can order, for example, a chocolate martini paired with a chocolate truffle cigar.

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