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The Mafia’s Love Affair with Cigars

man wearing fedora plays cards while smoking a cigar

Cigars have long been linked to the mafia ever since the beginning of organized crime in America, yet many people aren’t sure exactly why this is so. In fact, it’s true that cigars were actually popular before the mafia and continued to be after it. However, there’s no denying that cigars and the mafia became intertwined to the point where it would be hard to imagine one without the other. Here’s the history of cigars being a big part of the mafia along with some reasons why this happened.

The History of Cigars

For years, premium cigars have had a special place in American culture. However, there was a time when it was not so socially acceptable to smoke a cigar. Instead, Americans primarily smoked pipes and cigarettes. But after Castro came into power in Cuba, production of premium cigars drastically slowed and prices increased considerably. The United States saw a major influx of Cuban refugees who brought their love for premium cigar tobacco with them to Miami.

This is where they began to teach local residents how to roll premium cigars. These new cigar rollers were referred to as mafioso or mafia because they rolled under tables at night in order to avoid detection from police officers. Eventually, these cigar rollers began selling their hand-rolled cigars on street corners and at local barber shops where people would go for haircuts and shaves. It was during this time that people started calling them mafia cigars.

Eventually, mafia members realized that selling their cigars could be a great way to make money illegally without drawing attention from law enforcement officials. They also realized that it was a great way to network with other members of organized crime while providing an opportunity for low-level members of organized crime to prove themselves worthy of being inducted into higher levels of membership within organized crime organizations.

Who was Nicky Scarfo?

Nicky Scarfo (also known as Nick The Knife) was a Sicilian-American mobster who rose to prominence as boss of the Philadelphia crime family from 1981 until his conviction and life sentence in 1988. Scarfo moved quickly through the ranks of organized crime, serving as underboss to Angelo Bruno before becoming boss himself following Bruno’s murder. While running his family, he became involved in a fierce internal war for control of Atlantic City and South Jersey rackets. 

How did Nicky use cigars as a way to connect with his mobsters?

When running a criminal organization, it helps to have more than one thing in common with your members. Nicky used cigars as one of those things: they were a must-have accessory for all his men, and he frequently handed them out as gifts. These weren’t just any cigars—they were top-of-the-line Cubans—and everyone knew it.

Cuban cigars had become something of a status symbol among mobsters by that point, so handing one out was seen as a sign of respect. For Nicky, it was also a good way to gain favor within the mafia.

When he met with his men in person, he’d often offer them a cigar and take one for himself—this made him seem more approachable and friendlier than other bosses.

Cigars Can Bring People Together

The Mafia’s love affair with cigars can teach us a lot about how cigars have brought people together over the decades, even to this day. They are commonly used as an ice breaker between strangers and are one of life’s many social lubricants. There’s no mistaking when someone else is smoking a cigar, making it easy to strike up a conversation in even unfamiliar social situations.

Much like when Nicky gifted his cigars to others, smoking cigars amongst a group of friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, often comes with a mutual feeling of respect for one another.

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