The world of tubes just got a lot bigger and a
lot more interesting. When the Vera Cruz® luxury tube was introduced in
early 2002, (www.veracruzbrand.com), events
were finally set in motion to change the look and engineering of a whole new generation of
filtered cigarette tubes. It's been our position for quite some time (actually since the
magazine's beginning in January 2000), that most MYO tubes were simply too generic
looking. Now for those already involved in MYO, this is really not too much of a problem.
They have learned the benefits of MYO and appreciate the immense level of improvement in
flavor over packaged cigarettes. Furthermore, most understand and have experienced how
this methodology has changed their attitudes towards tobacco use in general. Even more
importantly, they have realized how much pleasure can be obtained for the smoker with far
less consumption and with a minimum of additives that have unproven but nonetheless
varying concern for many (most). Tubes, perhaps only next to really good and easy to use
injectors, are the foundation of this experience. The great tobaccos are ready and
available. However still, even among the already converted including those that may have come to MYO
for economic reasons at first, we have found a great deal of interest in better looking
tubes including new basic design strictures as well.
Also desired by readers has been better ways to package and deliver tubes to the consumer (see animation at left and a close up further down the page, of the new box closures with a tuckable tab, much like those used in electronics packaging, that finally address this issue - once and for all - no more sticky tape or spilled tubes), as well as better cigarette cases to transport the finished sticks. This is the tube section so we'll obviously concentrate here on the tubes themselves, but in the Review Section this time, we'll explore cases and other accessories that, now that tubes are finally evolving, need to evolve as well. Now we are not uncomfortable admitting that many of the new design ideas came from this magazine, many from our staff and many from our readers. However, the true heroes in the story of this new and improved tube world, are the manufacturers and brand owners who have stepped up to the plate and took the sizeable fiscal risk of producing tubes that consumers will find more attractive and much more enjoyable. Since the act of smoking tobacco does involve a varying and subjective degree of definition as to individual enjoyment, many find that nicer looking tubes enhance that enjoyment. Like a fine meal that not only tastes exceptional but looks exceptional, the palette does seem to be affected by presentation. The Vera Cruz® tube has proven this and now with a new manufacturer of the Vera Cruz® at a more efficient price and with yet even more innovations, the point will continue to be firmly made. More on the Vera Cruz® strategy later but there is a much larger story to be told, one that is evolving quickly. Therefore, what we want to do in this section is take a look at the beginnings of this new generation of tubes, discuss their differences, while urging the industry in general to pay attention. We think what you are about to read and see should give you confidence in the forward progression this sector of the industry is making and will continue to make.
Important UPDATE 5/17/06: One of the nicest things about an online publication is that it can be updated in real time. No need to wait for the next issue or the presses to run. Secondarily, what follows in this Update should give readers/consumers a feeling of empowerment that is rare in most industries. Because of public support with a lot of readers contacting RBA, the Escort line has been salvaged. As we originally stated below, this has been one of our favorite tubes as the porous paper it used was really effective in lightening the smoke without punching holes in the filter. RBA is sending us both the new Escort (we want to see if there are differences from the original) as well as both the Regular and Light flavored Rayo tubes which were also removed from the chopping block. It is very rewarding when a company listens to their customers and reconsiders and retains products whose value may not have been understood by sales figures alone. Our hat is off to RBA/Imperial/Vanelle (in whichever order one may wish to look at the group) as it was RBA's direct decision to keep these brands alive. So read what follows (notice the sudden appearance of question marks in the Escort graphic) as part of the historical record and be grateful that there are companies like RBA who really listen to their customers and move on what they hear. We'll further update this part when we get the new tube samples. For now, for those of you who insist on more minute detail, the group company is Imperial/Vanelle/RBA. Bottom line again is - good job RBA - the ed.
After the acquisition of CTC by Imperial (becoming EFKA Canada (now Vanelle- sheesh!) - with US distribution transferred to Robert Burton Associates), several tube brands, that were basically private label contracts executed by CTC, were dropped. Even some of the well established CTC owned products were, as well, killed. For instance, we were told there would be no more Escort (one of our favorite tubes - with a couple of qualifications which we'll first discuss before proceeding) (see Update above before continuing as the Escort is after all going to be continued). The Escort, among a few other CTC produced "Lights" utilized a special, and more expensive paper (from Kimberly-Clark) than other CTC tubes. It addressed the lightness issue by using paper of increased porosity. This paper had a couple of downsides. First, it did cause the tube paper to "flake" while burning. Now while this was not a fire-safety issue, (as the flakes were not hot), it did cause many a person, with propensities for dark clothing, to complain about the little white ash particles they would find on their clothing after smoking an Escort. I personally found this propensity to be less annoying than the harshness from some light filter tube strategies that use holes in the filter tip to achieve lightness. The Escort tube paper "breathed" along its entire length and thus mitigated, in a most satisfying way, the power (and taste) of the tobacco within. However, this porous paper was not easily used in the newer higher production speed machines (Decoufle) the now Imperial owned EFKA company was converting to. The glue used to make a tube in these new machines tended to "leak" through the more porous paper and make a mess. Though popular, the tube was announced as being dropped. That has now changed and machines capable of using this paper have evidently been obtained. (see Update above)
Also on the chopping block was CTC's Excel tube, which was the only tube we knew of that was filterless. The Excel was not all that popular as far as quantity sold and did present some interesting difficulties as far as use. They were shipped in boxes of 500 and having no filter to preserve a round state, they came flat. Because they were flat, there was more difficulty in having to "open" the tube up before placing it on the nozzle. Also the presence of a filter element does help with injecting to block tobacco from coming out the other end, at least with some machines. Nonetheless, there were faithful customers, who now have only legacy stock to look forward to. D&R has most of it (the Excel) and may rebirth this tube strategy in the future. Keep in mind that there are still Excel tubes currently available in inventory, but they won't last much longer. They will be missed to varying degrees. With a very long shelf life, I would stock up if you enjoyed these tubes. The Rayo brand of low cost rolling papers is still going to leave us but the Rayo tube itself line has now been revived (before it even had a chance to die) as well. (See Update above)
We mentioned above the strategy used by Escort to achieve a lighter smoke. In the MYO world lightness as a description has always been a measure of taste, not a quantified delivery of smoke constituents. Rolling tobacco, like wine, has likewise been described by its taste not its delivery numbers. For instance the alcohol content of wine varies a few percentage points depending on the age and variety but those variations are rarely taken into the context of a wine review. Light MYO tubes have never been marketed as providing a safer smoking experience. Cigarettes companies (who use laser or mechanical perforations in the filter tip) early on at least, made the mistake of implying less risk from Light cigarettes well before the big growth of MYO took place, and are still paying for it (more on that in a moment). Still, many light MYO tubes use the filter perforations. Tubes with ventilation (holes) in the filter have a couple of problems. First they introduce dry air at the last stage of the smoke's journey to your face and, as mentioned before and other times in the past in this magazine, can be more harsh. Thus, the seeming taste advantage of a lighter smoke is offset at times by increased harshness or dryness in the throat. Even more importantly, the latest law suit by the Government against Philip Morris, et al, (you know the $280 Billion RICO one that was reduced to around $10 Billion) had much to do with the ventilated hole's approach to less risk, which in reality was a challenge to the "definition" and health ramifications of the term of LIGHT itself. The holes traditionally were and still are positioned in the center of the tipping paper, such that the smoker could easily defeat the lightened smoke flow by merely placing their lips over the perforation openings. As the holes were only 12mm (less than 1/2 inch) or so from the end of the filter, this was easy to do and those with larger lips could do this unintentionally as well. At least this was the US v PM case as outlined in that suit which you can find through almost any search engine. (Type light cigarette lawsuits - add RICO for more results.) Now regardless if this is ultimately a case of someone misusing a product by defeating the purpose of the holes or not, the fact that many of our readers, and myself included, find that some ventilated light tubes smoke harsher and thus appear "stronger" than their regular flavored siblings, led us to the simple proposition of longer filter elements. Tubes, as you must certainly know by now, traditionally have somewhere between 15 and 17mm long filter elements.
Rizla's innovative Cigarette Sized Tube at right, which we will look at in further detail later (as we've done in past issues), has a 22mm filter element and that tube, in conjunction with a smaller diameter tobacco chamber, makes for a very pleasant and mild smoke. It is (wisely I think) not touted as a Light (in fact it's stated to be a Regular) but it sure smokes a lot milder than many lights. Its ONLY drawback is that it is too narrow for stock injectors from other manufacturers and Rizla has not yet provided a crankstyle - only a hand injector. Now there are those who sand down (only slightly) a Supermatic's (for instance) nozzle, to accommodate this slight difference in diameter (again MYO tubes run about 8.1mm in diameter as opposed to pre-mades or Rizla's Cigarette Size which come in at about 7.8mm) and readers who have modified their machines, do report great enjoyment with the Rizla tube. Some older crankstyles, having worn the nozzle (tip/fitting where you place the tube) from a lot of use, can use the Rizla without any sanding. I have several old machines that work with this tube. And the enhanced structuring at the tobacco end of the tipping paper, makes "tapping" the final stick down much easier without bending the tube.
The point is, the longer filter element is effective at making a milder flavor experience as does the reduction in the size of the cross section of the tobacco chamber. This is somewhat mitigated by lessened length of the tobacco chamber of the tube, where the tobacco itself provides some filtration. Still, there is no doubt that longer elements work and actually make for less empty space between the tobacco and the filter plug upon initial injection (i.e., before tapping the filled tube down for consistent packing) and the slimmer design provides less contrast for a newly migrated (to MYO) packaged cigarette smoker. Myself, I like the slimmer design a lot, not necessarily as much as the standard wider format, but like most current MYO enthusiasts, it has less impact on me than on the novice. However when it comes to 100mm length, the most common complaint is that standard 8.1mm diameter MYO sticks when extended to 100mm look just too damn big for many who come from the 100mm packaged cigarette crowd - especially our female readers. There is more exciting news on this that you will find in the Injector Section, news that could likely double the footprint of MYO rather quickly if all that is assumed in the Injector Section piece is indeed doable. Look for the "revisited" graphic you see above right in the Injector Section for more detail on the possibilities.
The normal manufactured cigarette has a 20 - 22mm filter element. The Escort tube, with a 17mm plug and with the porous paper, effected a near perfect (to many) mildness to the smoke, but still many a novice to MYO noticed that the sticks seemed somewhat stronger than their recently abandoned manufactured Lights, or even Regulars, even when using pretty light flavored tobaccos. There are many reasons for this, most of which have to do with what is actually in a packaged brand (besides real whole leaf tobacco, which is in short supply in most any pre-made), but again it is important to note that there are many ways to perceive the strength of a smoke. Some equate harshness, some flavor, and some equate dizziness as a result of the amount of nicotine the filter lets through. Personally, I equate mildness with flavor along with the dizzy factor to a lesser degree and the tobacco blend itself can and does have a great impact on my perception. In simple terms, I prefer a "softer" approach to flavor. In other words, I prefer my palette to be allowed to taste the smoke rather than have my palette stridently attacked by its flavor. This goes for wine and food as well. Some blends are clearly "stronger" than others, no matter how you define strength. Having no nicotine addiction, after many years of the moderate use of MYO methodology, I personally can get a bit of a "rush" from a strong MYO cigarette and almost always one from a pre-made, regardless of how light they are claimed to be. The point again is, that longer elements do work and their purpose cannot be defeated other than by the patently illogical practice of increased consumption, whether accomplished by deeper more copious inhales, more frequent "puffs" or, of course, more sticks. These "alterations" to one's smoking practices were likewise addressed in the RICO case mentioned above. And since the normal MYO injector itself seems to like the longer element as well, I firmly believe that longer elements are an extremely important part of MYO's future. So where does that leave us? Well some will continue to like the shorter elements while many will prefer the new longer ones. We don't expect everyone to agree. MYO is about personal choice and the newest tube designs are providing more "choice" than ever before. And those coming to MYO from packaged brands will most certainly find the longer elements more to their liking (of course along with the undeniable fact that the flavor of fresh, high quality, real tobacco is far superior to anyone who truly enjoys tobacco). If they don't truly enjoy tobacco flavor, they should quit smoking altogether. So let's now take a look at what has transpired in new tube designs since last we published. And please keep in mind that one of the reasons this section update has been so long in coming is that these new tubes were a year-plus long project to accomplish.
HBI, long been known for innovative new products, has been the first to step up to the filter length issue plate with a completely new line of tube products. Rizla was really the first with their Cigarette Size, but we are talking here of traditional MYO tube diameters. We'll start with HBI's Three Castles' line as we've already introduced this incredible tobacco blend, reborn from the past, in the current Tobacco Section. Three Castles was known for quality and mildness. It was among the most sought after connoisseur tobacco for many years, in every real tobacco shop in the US. HBI acquired the trademark after the original left the US market and with Mark Ryan at D&R's help, have given it back to us. And the new is even better than the original to my taste (and almost everyone who has now tried it who remembers the original). It was only appropriate to create a tube that was as special as this blend itself. We highly recommended the longer element as a component. As you will see in each of the graphics related to all of the new HBI tubes that, when used, the term light is precisely used with the term flavored, or Mild flavored. In the case of the Three Castles tube, Mild Flavored seemed more appropriate and a lot more classy. Again these terms have no relation to any implied risk factor from smoking, they simply describe the experience of the palette a consumer can expect. The Regular flavor Three Castles tube utilizes the traditionally longer 17mm filter element and, because of construction material quality, lends itself to a very smooth smoke.
Some background here before we proceed. A new manufacturer was needed as CTC/EFKA/Imperial would no longer make private labels (nor, for the most part, would any other tube manufacture of any size), so, through many of our international contacts and efforts, and a bright and impressive young man, Mike Ang, who we met years ago when we consulted with him on his Masters in Marketing thesis (he chose MYO as the subject and has both a Masters in Engineering and in Marketing), a new and highly diverse manufacturing operation was created by his family in the Philippines. The US counterpart of this company is Mike's company, SaintVincentUSA (www.stvincentusa.com). Along with their Philippine parent company, Silverfoil/ThirdGen, StVincent is enabling the creation of many new tube designs that will significantly impact the MYO market. Three Castles (along with the Vera Cruz® line) were their first of many for the US market. The Three Castles Full Flavor is an outstanding tube. The quality of manufacturing is state of the art and, as we'll discuss throughout this section, StVincentUSA has, as its core philosophy, the innovative spirit and capability that we stressed during Mike's thesis writing days. These new tubes don't disappoint (top notch paper, pristine filter material and, of course, consistent quality control execution). As we show each one, note the filter length and other info in the graphics.
Of course, a 'Castles tube was needed to address the milder tastes of many (keep in mind the great majority of cigarette smokers, smoke light/filtered cigarettes), not only current MYO enthusiasts but those who will continue to migrate from packaged brands as they decide to continue to smoke or quit altogether. There's 48 Million of them and MYO must address more what they want in a smoke while never discouraging them to quit if it is appropriate for them. For those adults that chose to smoke, The Three Castles Mild Flavored does this as the filter element is 20mm, similar or identical to what they are used to, and the design is definitely less generic looking than many tubes now available. (there have been some positive changes on that subject in other brands as well, which we'll discuss a bit later). HBI's Three Castles Mild Flavored is even milder to my palette than the Escort. The longer filter element also addresses another issue which has bothered a great many of our readers about MYO tubes for a long time. That is the amount of tobacco wasted, that is tucked under the tipping paper. With a 15mm element and 24mm of tipping paper (the standard), one is left with 9 mm of tobacco that is useless to the smoker for anything other than minor extra filtration. A 20mm elements reduces that to a paltry 4mm and the difference is dramatic. Perfect for those that want (sometimes of necessity) a bit shorter smoke, and those that want more aggressive flavor filtration, and of course, those that are constantly annoyed at the tobacco wasted under the tip. Now please keep in mind that most MYO people we meet and communicate with don't smoke their sticks right down to the filter element, partly because traditionally if you did that with a packaged cigarette, where most of us started, you got the horrible "burnt plastic" filter taste. Still, using less tobacco and a milder experience will be greatly appreciated by our readers who've been asking for these improvements for years. The Three Castles brand of tubes is here and available.
In its typical propensity, HBI didn't stop with the Three Castles brand. Their primary brand was ZEN. With CTC (who made the original ZEN line) out of the picture, StVincent USA was a perfect fit for continuing the ZEN brand. Here again though, HBI listened to our readers and the growing market and applied some innovation to the ZEN line as well. They, in order not to confuse their current customers, stuck with the Full Flavored and Light Flavored terminology (as opposed to Mild). The New ZEN Full Flavored, again a StVincentUSA production, has the 17mm filter element and a new packaging look. Very classy, as is the product inside. Apart from addressing quality issues that at times we're occasionally present from the previous maker, the new ZEN Full Flavored is quite similar to the old one. It is simply better to our eye and taste. Again, great neutral to the palette paper and pristine filter plugs. These tubes will impress even the most devoted ZEN user and will likely expand HBI's footprint for this brand.
While the Full Flavored King will remain ostensibly the same, the new ZEN Light Flavored is going to blow a lot of minds as it charts some significantly new territory. During our consulting efforts with this new project, an issue was raised I personally had not been aware of. The terminology for this issue is "Pressure Drop" though that may be a bit misleading. What it entails is that the machines that make the filter element rods, at least the Silver Foil machines, can increase or decrease the amount the filter element is compressed. More accurately, the varying density of the filter. Most importantly, this can be done without changing the diameter of the filter and hence the tube. ZEN's new Light Flavored tube employs this strategy. Although the element is still 17mm in length, this compression change does wonders for the amount of filtration. It is elegantly logical engineering-wise, and I'm a bit surprised it hasn't been used before. The resultant experience with this new tube is that it's the lightest we've ever seen, in any 17mm or less tube, so far. Many new readers to the magazine that are drifting from pre-mades are looking for ultra lights. Since what makes an ultra-light packaged cigarette has much to do with the tobacco (or lack thereof) as well as the heavily punctured filters, we doubted an ultralight tube would be possible. This process will begin the journey to address this issue for MYO. While a true ultra-light will require even longer, compressed filters, used with extremely mild tobacco (like the Three Castles), the degree to which an ultra light experience will be available in the future will have to also address tobacco flavor. You just don't get any with any current ultra-light cigarette, which begs they question of why smoke them at all. However, using real tobacco of high quality with an even more aggressively compressed and lengthened filter may prove to be the ultimate smoking experience for those who want just a little taste of the experience. The compression technology really doesn't add much to the price of the tube, and the results are downright amazing.
What's next, longer 20mm element with the "pressure drop"? You got it and we'll go there in a moment. To repeat, the new ZEN Light Flavored even with the 17mm filter element is dramatically lighter than any equivalent light tube we've seen. And don't worry. The amount of extra sucking pressure needed is almost unnoticeable, and frankly a lot more consistent with that needed for packaged brands. In plain English, unless compared side by side with a non-compressed tube, the minute extra effort needed to draw is completely unnoticeable. The ZEN tube has taken a very big first step with this one.
So HBI might have been finished with these two but no, they wanted more. Their third tube, the Laramie is yet another outstanding creation. However, though the quality is in every way apparent, the category it was initially introduced into is, admittedly, a particular sore spot with me. In fact, it flies in the face of all logic and everything I believe as to the ultimate position of MYO as a quality-over-cost practice. We've stated many times in this publication that most of our readers tell us they would not go back to packaged cigarettes even if they were free. That really is no exaggeration. I know I would not. However, even with the exceptional quality differences between the two, the cigarette industry (especially in Europe) refers to MYO as "downtrading." I can't begin to relate the degree to which this inaccurate and pompous statement offends me. Even the lowest quality of rolling tobaccos, injected into a tube, rivals nearly anything available in premades. Nonetheless, much of the MYO industry seems to still be overly pre-occupied with cost and price. We've been urging the industry for years that this is a very shortsighted approach. When one begins to compete with price as a sole strategy, one propagates the success of lower quality products and ultimately paints themselves into a very small corner with no vertical room for escape. I find it ridiculous that people who already are saving 75% over their former packaged cigarettes are condescendingly assumed to need even cheaper products. Why, so they can smoke more? I certainly hope not. There is really only a few dollars per pound wholesale price differential between the worst and the finest tobaccos in the world. Tubes are no different. The Vera Cruz® tube is currently the most expensive tube ever produced. It is also the most beautiful and to many, the finest by a good measure. It adds a tiny $2.00 to the price of a carton's worth of MYO! Those who like this tube, love it and the relative price differential is meaningless for all but perhaps the most severely fiscally challenged. And not to sound elitist, but does this industry really want to place its entire future in the hands of the world's most impoverished.
Great products at great prices are expected, but get over the nickel-and-diming of Americans. Moreover low income does not mean stupid. Low income people are not ignorant just because they may have financial problems and those of low income are (and should be) offended by the inference of a lack of taste that somehow low income people must suffer from. They don't. In fact often they have, of necessity, superior senses of taste as their ultimate decisions on value have more proportional impact. No, it's not a question of cheap, but one of value and there are many components to defining value other than rock bottom pricing.
There are brands of tubes that are in the low cost category that truly cost nearly, if not as much to manufacture, as their higher retail priced siblings. In the market (any market) they are known as loss leaders but with any intelligent perusal, the lost leader business is always, by definition, short sighted and short lived. It cannot be sustained. No matter how much volume is produced, a non-profitable item will remain so until it dies (usually a rather nasty death) often taking better quality products with it. Now because other companies advertise a less expensive product, HBI (I suppose) felt that they had to have something that would compete in that arena. Again I disagree, but that is my job to observe and disagree (or agree as is my personal view). Their new Laramie tube is such a product at least at its introductory price. In other words, it is, at least temporarily, marketed at a lower price than say the ThreeCastles tube, but is nearly identical except for markings and is an outstanding product. And I really like the name. Were it me marketing such an item, for instance say for HBI, I would deal with a distributor/retailer regarding my tubes in this manner: I would offer them the ThreeCastles brand at a fair price and if they ordered enough, I would offer them the Laramie at a discount, as a thank you for doing business with me. I would not market the Laramie as a stand alone cheaper substitute. First of all, it is not a cheap substitute in any way, but initially perceived price. Again, this is a truly fine tube. It employs the same 17mm Full and 20mm Light Flavor strategies as the ThreeCastles. The box isn't as nice cosmetically and it does not carry the prestigious name of ThreeCastles or the logo, (although it does employ the new ultra-secure closure boxes), but it is a great tube, among the best ever made. Buzz phrases like "false economy", "penny-wise and pound foolish" and others come to mind and this applies to you customers as much as it does to you manufacturers who may squabble over a few pennies. I've no idea what the final price point of this tube will be. I do know it deserves a far better label than a "cheap" tube. Let's hope this superior product avoids such a label.
People will pay a fair price for great products (I mean for Christ's sake - look what they are paying for inferior packaged cigarettes) and the impression of a low cost product is ALWAYS, that it is inferior. Marketing is not a science, despite what you may have heard. It is a hit and miss proposition and those who are really good, bat about as well as a good hitter in baseball, well under .400, .300 if they are lucky, - less than 30-40%. I saw a car commercial the other day here in the US (for our international readers) that finished the ad with the final pitch phrase, "And German Engineering." Now I have a lot of friends in Europe whom I don't wish to offend but currently MOST Americans in this politically charged world could give a crap about the Germans or their engineering. The issue is not whether German engineering is superb - it is and this is not really about Germans at all, but about poorly thought out advertising or promotional strategies. Specifically, marketing exists in real time, and the timing of that ad strategy could not have been more ill-conceived. A year from now perhaps our relations with Germany may have returned to the point that such a phrase once again carries positive marketing punch. There was a time when a Swiss watch meant something warm and fuzzy or a Japanese product meant cheap and poorly constructed. These are no longer the case, and with the current perception that nearly the entire EU is not among the best of friends to the US, I would have most definitely withheld that phrase in marketing here in the US. It's not like the ad viewer was unaware of the source of the car, but to hit the viewer over the head with that phrase was simply a poorly presumptuous strategy based on attitudes that are not, at least temporarily, what they once were. It was a mistake - a mistake made by those who are paid a whole lot to be right. The Japanese sell a lot more cars in the US than the Europeans and many are truly outstanding, but I've yet to hear an ad pushing the advantages of "Japanese Engineering." Frankly as an American, I would like to hear a lot more about "Good 'Ol American Engineering", but as somewhat of a globalist as well, I simply want to hear about a product and how good it is on its own merit, not on its flag of origin. I have much the same feeling about the preoccupation with parading the cheapness of MYO products. It is irrelevant to the larger issue at hand, and that is the SUPERIORITY of MYO - period.
This magazine has always touted the quality of the MYO experience as well as the sensible use of the products of this category. The fact that it saves money is (at least should be) of little importance OTHER than as a symbolic rejection of worldwide governmental intrusion and social engineering by means of targeted taxation schemes as well as the total rejection of the avarice of too many non-profit do-gooders. Now above this RANT, you can see the most excellent Laramie Mild Flavored with its 20mm filter as well. Don't overlook it as I stray back to marketing strategy and remember this is not a problem exclusive to or caused by HBI. It is systemic and companies like HBI are almost "forced" to join in this nonsense to compete. I say almost because one can decide to not join this club. It is tough but not impossible and we will continue to applaud those who refuse to submit to this kind of pressure. Anyway, and more directly to the point, let me give you two other examples of the dangers of the philosophy of the Cheap. McClintock Virginia tobacco (sold off by Stokkebye along with Bali and now owned by CommonWealth Brands) was from its first breath, a loss leader. It was an ultra premium tobacco but sold at prices to be competitive with much lower grades of tobaccos that, at the time, were most commonly available. Cut a bit less fine than Stokkebye's finest, there may have been minor savings in the processing, but in general it was absolute top quality leaf. I completely understand that, at the time it was introduced, MYO was young and there were relatively few really great tobaccos suitable for injecting, and packaged cigarettes were a whole lot cheaper as well. However, the profit draining legacy of the initial price point never went away, was never overcome. Cheaper, lower quality blends (lower only by Stokkebye's very high standards) under the McClintock label arose and have done well, but the precious original McClintock Virginia is now history. When asked, we encouraged that the price of McClintock be raised to save it. It was nonetheless killed - most likely by accountants rather than tobacco people. We cover this in the tobacco section but it makes a point worth making, again and again. MYO is NOT a cheap way to smoke tobacco, nor should it ever be promoted as such - it IS a superior experience in every way as a means to enjoy tobacco. The Danes and other Scandinavian countries have learned this a bit late as 4th tier (cheap crap) cigarettes have invaded and really damaged the MYO/RYO sector there. There is always somebody who can come up with inferior, cheap products - it takes little effort or skill to produce garbage. I just hope this industry re-adjusts and internalizes this concept before, with a growing MYO world awareness, new taxes raise the price. This sector needs a large loyal following who feel they deserve the best that life (in every way) has to offer and if they have to smoke a little less to enjoy the finest, MYO is uniquely qualified to make that both possible AND preferable. See the section on Treasurer Cigarettes in the upcoming Editorial section. It drives home the point on a global scale. So to close the book on HBI's new lines of tubes, the Laramie may temporarily or ultimately have a lower price, but it is in no way to be construed as a "cheap" tube. Rather, I will always look at it for what it is - an incredible value, whether the price stays low or not.
OK, now that I've aired some laundry about the cheapening of MYO and probably ticked off HBI, the Germans, and countless other groups, as I need to do occasionally, so they (and our readers) know that when I do compliment these entities and their products, you and they can bet I truly mean it, let's look at another innovative brand in the process of launch. Mark Ryan of D&R is a great friend of mine. So are Charlie and Josh of HBI. I have a lot of friends, not just clients, in this business.This fact does not cloud my ability to be honest with them. This publication would be useless if it did. Mark and I are, at times, quoted in Tobacco Reporter Magazine (an international tobacco magazine of incredible worth and scope). As a trade publication, many of our readers will never see it, but both Mark and I freely contribute information about RYO/MYO and all its nuances to this respected, authoritative source, as it has impact and reach world-wide. It was after reading what I said in an interview with Brandy Brinson, a senior editor of the magazine with great expertise concerning the RYO/MYO sector, that Mark decided to add to his already worthy Windsail tube line, a new brand of tubes that could be produced by no one but StVincentUSA. He's really proud of his groundbreaking Turkish blends, Ramback and Ramback Gold (as am I) and wanted a tube that would enhance the Ramback experience even more fully as well as the enjoyment of his other tobaccos. The new tube is named . . . you guessed it, Ramback. It will come in two varieties, and like the VeraCruz tubes, including the current Nocturne and soon to be released Elegante, no statement of flavor, mildness, or strength will be used. It will be up to the consumer to decide which tube is right for them based on flavor perceptions alone.
Of course, we will evaluate our perceptions of each experience, but that will be subjective to our taste only. And that is an important point that is also part of the MYO methodology. For example, some people think Ramback is too strong by itself, some think it too mild. Even regarding Mark's CockStrong, whose power knocks me on my butt, some readers tell me it is too mild. Of course, many think these blends are just right. The point is, it is each of your perceptions which are always of utmost importance. We only relate our experience and the perceptions of our readers, who communicate with us most freely - no holds barred. You are always the final judge for your personal taste, and that is as it should be. All we ask is that if you are going to smoke, educate yourself by trying a variety of blends and tubes. There is a lot to choose from. Here's a preliminary look at the new Ramback Tubes.
Mark at D&R, like I said, has adopted the strategy of simply and separately naming the tubes rather than qualifying or quantifying their taste. There are two versions of the Ramback tube, the Ramback Prestige and the Ramback Elite. Of course they differ in design, (there would be no point to two names if they were identical) but the main difference between these two 20mm element tubes is the high density filter of the Elite. The metallic stripe on the Elite is silver as opposed to the gold of the Prestige, but these are the only cosmetic differences. However the perception to the palette, with both tubes employing the 20mm element, one with the pressure drop, are at once striking and different. The Normal Density (no pressure drop) Prestige gives one the precision draw of a premium packaged cigarette but with all the flavor advantages of whatever real tobacco you choose to put in it. The Elite takes the experience to even a milder-to-the-palette sensation. We like the fact that neither say Light or Mild Flavored. Each person will soon realize which they prefer and they both do great justice to whichever tobacco one may use. With the higher density filtration of the Elite, folks who otherwise may not like the strength of such exotic and robust tobacco like halfzwares or even D&R's Perique blends, may find suddenly they find them perfect. More important yet is the fact that this tube (the Elite) uses BOTH the extended 20mm filter length AND the higher density (or pressure dropped) filter. And once D&R finalizes the semi-cigar type Don Giovanni blends that we showed you in this issue's tobacco section, this more aggressive filtration may make for an unbeatable match. At this point and looking at the near final prototypes, I find the Elite, the tube of choice for my somewhat sensitive palette. It is the lightest tube yet. Now of course, this depends somewhat on the mildness of the tobacco I may be using at any given time. In fact, all of the other tubes above are dramatic improvements over my former favorite (not counting the VeraCruz for a moment), the Escort. The ash produced is pristine and holds together - there is little if any flaking, and the consistency of production is first rate. Now the colors you see here on the Ramback boxes are preliminary prototypes, and some final adjustments are (we're told) still needed. However as they are right now, I think the packagings are striking and compelling. The tastefully lined tips are gorgeous, coming as close to the VeraCruz as anything the MYO world has seen. And you will be surprised at the reasonable pricing of all of these new StVincentUSA enabled creations. Cheap - NO, Value - YES. Even the boxes and closure strategy have been improved in all of these this new lines. No longer will your tubes fall out of the box if the box is tipped over or dropped. In fact, with this new closure design (see a close-up animation at left - and at top - way up above) one can take a box of these tubes and throw it around like a football and never spill a tube. As the phrase we started this article with implies, the world of MYO tubes has suddenly become much larger, more functional, and more beautiful as well.
So after all this new stuff, where does that leave the tubes heretofore enjoyed by the MYO enthusiast. Well, in all honesty, we expect these older brands to continue to be successful. Many are upgrading their packaging and cosmetic appeal. More importantly, they DO have a deservedly solid foothold in this market and my hope is that the entire industry will look at these new innovations as an opportunity rather than simply more competition. It boils down to this. There are about 2 million MYO enthusiasts in the US alone, a majority of whom read this publication. This represents about 4% of the cigarette smoking market. These numbers are difficult to pin down precisely as some (a few) continue to smoke packaged cigarettes at times when MYO is not convenient. We think that practice is dwindling and is offset by those that smoke mostly packaged brands, but occasionally roll or make their own. The point is that no matter how you slice it, that 4% is a pretty small portion of the overall pie. It has been our contention from our beginnings, that companies solely in this industry should look at the larger picture. Simply put, rather than fight over pieces of a relatively small slice of the overall pie, create products that will expand the slice, and expand it dramatically. I know for a fact that there is concern that should the MYO sector grow substantially, large cigarette companies will fight back. Well face it, it is already happening and will continue to escalate. Despite the lawsuits that are so publicly aired regarding large cigarette companies, these same companies are daily lobbying on behalf of increased taxes and smoking bans. We'll get into the seemingly illogical motives of this behavior in our Editorial Section, but make no mistake, Big Cigarettes are already at war with MYO. Every piece of cigarette legislation or regulation, winds up being applied to tobacco as well, specifically "tobacco that by nature of its cut and other characteristics can be used to make a cigarette." That means MYO and RYO, and while the states in some cases have made exceptions for cigars and pipe tobaccos (cigars have a very strong lobby and many legislators/politicians are of the class that smoke cigars most frequently), the rolling tobacco industry is specifically already included with cigarettes in every way other than methods of the measurement of revenue collection. In other words cigarettes have a per pack tax and stamps in all states whereas rolling tobaccos are taxed either based on wholesale cost or by weight and require no state stamps - at least for now. This again, we will cover in the Editorial coming very soon, but it should serve to demonstrate that the time is long past when MYO will be ignored, even if it remains small. It will no longer do any good to hide.
Consequently, the only logical course is to spread the word of the advantages of the MYO methodology (reduced dependence on nicotine enhanced by less consumption of more chemically free products, wider choices as to what to put in your particular cigarette tube, and the overall incredibly satisfying flavor nature of the experience.) Determined smokers who try MYO under the right circumstances (good easy to use injectors, good tubes that have some cosmetic appeal, and great tobaccos) quite often switch. The current large majority of packaged cigarette smokers don't need to be baited with cost advantages. They'll realize that soon enough, mainly because of self controlled consumption which cannot, even under the worst of future tax scenarios, be regulated away. And, as we've noted many times in these pages, Americans and people in general often become brand loyal to certain cigarettes because they view it as mark of status. The idea that MYO is for those who can't afford "REAL" cigarettes should have died long ago. The states, feds, and anti-smoking parasites will continue, as long as they are allowed to by we,the general public, to make things difficult for those that choose to enjoy tobacco in any form. Until our population finally gets wise to the fact that this issue goes far beyond tobacco, to the very heart of freedom of personal choice and its resulting acceptance of personal responsibility, there will be forces against the smoker. Trying to hide in a less visible market share will do little good. There is still plenty of money in the MYO sector to attract the parasites. It is only a matter of time and if the population has not rid society of these groups and the politicians that enfranchise them, then the smoker must be prepared to pay higher costs. It's an act of balance and timing. I think the American people are fed up with the lunatic fringe that extorts money from smokers in the cause of a better life for everyone because it is beginning to effect the choices of non-smokers as well, in many market sectors. I think Americans have already realized these groups are solely after the money to which they've become addicted far more than any smoker is to nicotine. However, regardless of who leads the debate at any given time, this industry is waging a logistically losing battle by focusing so much on low cost. If you are going to enjoy tobacco, allocate reasonable resources to enjoy the best you can afford. You cannot do that with packaged cigarettes. You have no real choice there and the pack mentality will rule over even your best intentions for self-control. Only in MYO do you have both the variety, purity of product, and a chance at self-controlled responsibility for what you ingest. These things, in and of themselves, have value worth paying for. Smoke less of a great product and pay less in the long run (in many ways). It really is as simple as that.
Many companies, as stated above, have already upgraded their products and to some degree have innovated at least the cosmetic designs of their tubes. For instance Gizeh, among the most popular tubes in the US (and with our readers), have new packaging and logos that you can actually see on the tubes without a microscope. Gizeh makes fine products. Their Gold Tip Productor (below) was/is a great innovation (it holds tubes in the same case the injector resides). Their new packaging is quite compelling as is their Mascotte line. These are great tubes. Yes, though they continue with the 15mm European standard element length, many smokers like the added power and taste the shorter element provides. It is not up to us to convince smokers what they SHOULD like. The big Cigarette companies already made that mistake. And just as MYO/RYO has never marketed to kids, has never put unneeded chemicals in their products, MYO allows for nearly unlimited personal choice, and for many, that will mean Gizeh products. They too have embarked on altered perception labeling strategies such as SilverTip and Airstream or with Mascotte, Classic and Golden to describe what can be construed as full or mild flavored products, and their Charbon charcoal enhanced tube remains among the most mild tasting in the industry. The point of this is that they do not use the terms Light or Mild, much like VeraCruz and the new Rambacks. Of course, some folks may initially be confused when say, looking for a light, but the fact that is most important is that if someone is looking for a light for decreased health risk, they better stop smoking. Light and regular in the MYO world implies nothing about health or risk, only flavor, and Gizeh is wise to abandon the jargon that could possibly lead to litigations like those referred to at the beginning of this page. It really is up to each person to decide which flavor level they like and as a reviewer of such products, I can say that the Silver Tip gives one a more robust flavor than the Airstream and the Classic more than the Golden Mascotte. Beyond that it is your call. I'd try 'em both to find which is most suitable to your palette.
North Atlantic (Zig-Zag) enjoys a similar and well deserved loyalty among its tube patrons and their new all natural cigarettes show nicely upgraded cosmetics, while creating a new benchmark in real tobacco packaged cigarettes. And the products in the newly formed CTC/EFKA/Imperial line represented by RBA, including Premier (one of the leading brands of MYO), Rizla, and El Rey have products that have shown heightened attention to attractive detail. The Cigarette Sized Rizla tube was a really important step that demonstrated the flexibility that tube manufacturers should be capable of. The Premier 100 was a a great first step as well. RBA, who now controls these products, certainly must realize that the bulk of the 100mm cigarette market prefers tubes of less diameter, most especially in that length. Many women don't like MYO 100's. We are told constantly that they feel too clunky, too big for female hands. Men as well, who like a long, stylish cigarette will greatly prefer a slimmer version. Both Zig-Zag and Premier need to address this with their 100's or someone else will. Already StVincentUSA is developing such a tube and injector makers on several continents are working on designs that will be flexible enough to accommodate both a multitude of diameters and a multitude of lengths. Zig-Zag has been a real leader in this country and has incredible visibility in tobacco outlets. Their introduction of a 100mm slimmer tube (cigarette size) would be a dramatic coup. It will be interesting to see who gets there first.
A case in point was Premier's slim 6.5 tube and injector kits. We get a lot of mail by people who loved this size stick. And after getting the little hand injector (which admittedly left a lot to be desired) with the slim tubes in a kit, they are HIGHLY pissed they can no longer get the tubes. Only the kits remain as legacy stock. Slim has been in for a long time in the premium cigarette market and this format needs to be, once again, addressed. The Premier 6.5 mm tube was much shorter than most slim packaged cigarettes. It was basically a regular length filtered like the original Marlboro Flip top box of old. While most of the cigarette market has been attracted to LONG slims, some up to 120mm in length, this shorter length slim tube inadvertently addressed another issue that is increasingly mentioned, and that is a shorter smoke. Busy people today, with few places to smoke in public, will enjoy a short slim stick. It simply requires a better injector to fill it. Many will enjoy a short version of the standard MYO width tube as well. All these things are possible now and consumer pressure for these products is significantly growing. If MYO companies want to expand the entire playing field (i.e., the whole pie), they had better take the very preliminary innovations we have shown on this page seriously. There is plenty of room for everyone and only those that fail to address at least some aspect of innovation will be left behind. RBA's El Rey has one of the nicest looking tube boxes out there. The tubes inside are great quality but far more mundane in appearance than the exterior packaging would suggest. The kit is one of the nicest ever and includes an outstanding case (for those who prefer the rather clunky size compared to the slimmer, more elegant and costly traditional metal cigarette cases). RBA knows how to present products. Their rolling paper lines have been enormously successful and deservedly so. They created the first extra-wide paper (E-Z Wider). They have beautiful and sheer hemp papers (Joker). They have the power of the Supermatic/Excel line of injectors in their stable and they created the first Cigarette Sized tube. RBA is a very good company and we know them very well. They need to loose the dogs and continue the innovations including a 100mm Cigarette Sized (diameter) tube with a great injector to fill it. With Imperial Tobacco's backing, they certainly should have the pockets to do so. Again, if they do not, someone else likely will.
The Trademarked Vera Cruz® line, dropped by Imperial after the CTC acquisition, is now in the hands of the even more creative and visionary StVincentUSA engineers. Both the brown Nocturne and the newer Elegante and Midnight will continue to be trend setters. The Elegante will immediately adopt the 20mm high density filter approach while the original brown Vera Cruz Nocturne, arrives from StVincent with the new 20mm standard compression filter element. All versions will be a bit less expensive than the original as well, with significant increases in quality. In fact they will be even better, benefiting from all of the newest technology available and hands-on quality control. The already popular Elegante makes its formal debut at the upcoming March 2006 NATO show in Las Vegas and the new version Nocturne, and the latest black and gold Midnight version will be there as well. These tubes are a landmark creation and for those who've tried them or simply have seen them, their singular elegance and quality of construction, as mentioned in the first paragraph of this page, has turned a lot of heads, changed a lot of attitudes, especially in the packaged cigarette community, about MYO being only a poor person's alternative. This brand will continue to press the intellectual evolution of the attitudes within the traditionally conservative MYO establishment. There will be elegantly upscale, functionally adaptable (tube size-wise), and practically indestructible injectors that carry the Vera Cruz® name, as well as other accessories to express the ultimate in refinement for the most discerning MYO enthusiast. Ultimately, there will be a multitude of tube sizes and diameters, as well as a line of truly functional and compelling cigarette cases that are made specifically for the various MYO tubes of the present and those of the future. You can be assured that there are many in the MYO industry who are looking to the future with full faith in the potential of this sector. As illuminated in the Ian Fleming James Bond novels and among society's elite, hand-made cigarettes have been a source of pride and pleasure for a very long time. This experience is now available to even those of modest income who wish to enjoy the finest tobaccos and have the taste to do it with some flair. Moderation as a cornerstone of the philosophy of MYO allows one to enjoy the finest and who knows, perhaps will begin to heal some of the damage caused by the disrespectful and abusive over-use of tobacco.
There will be a lot of new tubes and a lot of good older brands. All have merit, but since we believe that the future of MYO really does rely on expanding its footprint by attracting those packaged cigarette smokers who absolutely do not wish to quit using tobacco, continued innovation is vital. We can't wait to see what the next round of tube innovation may be. As Europe and Asia (and New Brunswick - yep that's right, that is where CTC/EFKA CANADA has relocated their tube manufacturing plant - moving from Montreal and closing their Plattsburgh, NY plant as well) begin to increase production, there should be ample opportunity for many more companies to have their own brand of tubes. Now I suppose at some point this all becomes redundant if the tubes are all the same with just different names, which has been occasionally the case in the past. For instance in the graphic above the Zig-Zag Light is identical to the Gambler Light except for the logo. These tubes, once made by CTC, are now made in Europe in the same plant. We don't expect this design similarity to persist, as when we contacted Zig-Zag, they seemed a bit surprised at the fact. However with the introduction of StVincentUSA into the mix, I doubt that will happen much in the future. The McClintock tube, which was identical to the Gizeh Twister, will likely change it face as well. With both the Bali and McClintock being transferred to CommonWealth Brands from Stokkebye, I expect changes are a'comin. In the same way, Stokkebye who has partnered with Villiger (a cigar company) retain the Stokkebye signature line of incredible tobaccos and will likely want a distinctive tube to match the elegance of their tobacco blends. The Texas tube shown above has an uncertain fate as G.A Andron reorganizes its catalog and its business. There will undoubtedly be a more "fluid" situation with tubes.
And of course, Republic's TOP line of tubes continues to satisfy many in the market. Their design is not cosmetically spectacular but their consistency seems to be outstanding. 15mm filter elements and a perforated filter on the Light version. Their Gambler line is also making a strong thrust into the market. In the short term, many current MYO users like the tubes they are already using. It will be interesting to see how the new designs compete with the current standards as more packaged cigarettes users enter the market. It is our opinion that these new lines of tubes will impress even the most image conscious packaged cigarette smoker who finds their way to MYO, as well as discovering a significant audience of those already arrived - who like the finest things in life.
This is all we have for now from the world of tubes and it is a lot WHEW!!!!. As more new designs come to life, we will test them and let you know what we think. For those of you new to all of this, we suggest you consult our Archive section as every tube in the world worth writing about will be found there. Until next time, keep in touch and let us know your thoughts on each of the products we review. This is a fascinating subject that is shared by many hundreds of thousands of readers and each of us wants to know what the other person's impressions are. We look forward to hearing from you. -the ed.
|EDITOR'S NOTE: These reviews are solely for the convenience of people of legal age who already smoke, are trying to cut down on smoking, wish to spend less money on their smoking, want to roll their own cigarettes from high quality tobacco, and, in general, wish to have a far more satisfying, and economical smoking experience when compared with smoking pre-manufactured cigarettes. We, in no way, encourage people to smoke. Further, we prescribe to a sane, more logical approach to smoking that involves common sense as to quantity coupled with a strong desire to manage the habit until it becomes an occasional, freely chosen, diversion, that can be fully enjoyed with minimal health risks. Finally, we strongly encourage those who do smoke to take it outdoors, or to appropriate environments where tobacco can be enjoyed away from those who do not smoke, most especially children. We do not sell tobacco or related products from this site; We distribute information about our perceptions of the quality of what is available and where it can be obtained. If you are under 18, it is illegal to buy tobacco and you should immediately exit this site. If you do not smoke, it would seem illogical to start.|
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