STOGIES FOR FOGIES? PUFFING NOW UPSCALE;'SICK & TIRED OF BEING GOOD, EVEN WOMEN ARE LIGHTING UP

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These days at yuppie watering holes, half-filled baseball parks and crowded city streets, clouds of cigar smoke hang in the air.

And the source of the fragrance (or the culprit behind the stench, depending on the bystander) is often a 25-to-35-year-old man-or woman.

This is not your grandfather's old stogie-and it's not his lifestyle, either.

"Cigars are being accepted again," said Bill Sherman, VP of Nat Sherman International, New York, a manufacturer and retailer of cigars. "Prior to 1991, the cigar industry was probably skewed toward more of a baby boomer-plus age group. Cigars always had the connotation of the grandfather sitting around smoking a cigar. Now, it's the grandchildren."

The Cigar Association of America reports a boom for premium cigars-sales of $29.2 million for the first five months of 1995, up 45.1% from the same period a year ago.

In 1994, 3.7 billion cigars were sold in the U.S., according to the cigar association, including 2.3 billion premium cigars, the first upswing after a 30-year free fall from 9 billion in '64.

The industry's consumer base, marketers say, has shifted to younger, upscale enthusiasts.

"The cigar is understood as something people can enjoy-not necessarily something to abuse but something they can partake of once a day," Mr. Sherman said.

"People are sick and tired of being good all the time," agreed Doug DeLieto, corporate communications specialist at U.S. Tobacco

International. U.S. Tobacco markets the successful new Astral brand, whose campaign-by Y A Group, Weehawken, N.J.-targets men in their mid-30s.

"People want a vice once in a while," Mr. DeLieto said. And this vice-positioned among the most sumptuous of luxury goods yet only $2 to

$30 each-carries special appeal for upscale novice smokers.

"The buying habits are changing," Mr. Sherman said of his family's retail outlet. "Younger guys are stopping in on Thursdays and Fridays to pick up cigars for the weekend, and groups of people are starting to enjoy a nice cigar after dinner, especially people ..... 25 and up."

Scratch that image of George and Milton chomping fat cigars; think Arnold and David-or Whoopi and Madonna.

Diana Silvius-Gits, owner of Chicago's Up Down Tobacco Shop, said the mass media's embrace of the cigar culture isn't the only factor in the

rise of cigar smoking.

"Ten or 12 years ago, the cigar manufacturers moved into the Dominican Republic and the tobacco blends were really bad and inconsistent; but quality control is unbelievable now," she said.

Women are becoming a real force in the market as exclusive cigar-smoking events and socie

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