Meet Richard Overton. He sits on his front porch in Austin, Texas, every day doing what he loves most: puffing on a cigar; sometimes 10 or 12 per day.
At the age of 112, Overton is the oldest man in America, as well as the oldest veteran. He loves to joke around; when reminded he’s the oldest, he responds with, “You are so right. I’m the oldest. That’s the reason I’m so mean, I’m ugly.”
“I’m happy every day,” he told Cigar Aficionado Magazine in a recent interview. “I don’t have no worries. I feel fine – I ain’t got no aches, pains or nothing.” His doctor once told him that 12 cigars a day is simply not a good idea and he should drop the habit all together. He ignored the advice.
In Cayman’s few cigar lounges, one can easily spot the cigar aficionado and separate him (or her) from those who just seek the novelty of smoking a Cuban. The connoisseur will narrate the quality of his smoke in the same fashion as a wine sommelier would describe a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or an expensive Chardonnay.
For a true expert, dragging on a Partagas or Cohiba that can be $400-$700 a box is puffing bliss. So, what are the dangers? Any medical professional will confirm that there are no buts about it – smoking is bad for you.
Well, what about comedian-actor George Burns who lived to be 100? Burns smoked cigars for 70 years and as he got older, his quota went up to around 15 cigars a day. Burns once said, “If I’d taken my doctor’s advice and quit smoking when he advised me to, I wouldn’t have lived to go to his funeral.”
Cigar lovers will say that cigar smoking is safer than cigarette smoking because you don’t inhale the smoke. Is it safer? My doctorate is in beer consumption so I am not answering that one. Here is what Dr. J. Taylor Hayes of the Mayo Clinic has to say: “No. Despite what you might have heard, cigar smoking isn’t safer than cigarette smoking – even if you don’t intentionally inhale the smoke.”
If the late Winston Churchill were still alive (he lived to be 90), he might have disagreed with Dr. Hayes. At Chartwell Manor, Churchill’s country home in Kent, he stocked between 3,000 and 4,000 cigars, mainly Cuban, in a room adjacent to his study.
Churchill spent a great deal of money on his cigars. Roy Howell, one of his valets, was witness to that. “It took me a little while to get used to the fact that in two days, his cigar consumption was the equivalent of my weekly salary,” said Howell.
Churchill typically smoked between eight and 10 cigars per day, although he did not constantly smoke his cigars but often allowed them to burn out so that he could chew on them instead.
Cigars vs. cigarettes
Approximately 75 percent of cigar smokers don’t inhale and don’t smoke cigars on a daily basis. Cigarette smokers do inhale, and most smoke a pack or two every day. These variations in smoking are why cigar smokers are less likely to be exposed to the toxins and poisons of cigarettes. It is also why there are fewer instances of cigar smoking-related disease and death than we typically see with cigarettes.
In the case of William F. Buckley, Jr., a well known conservative author who published some 50 books and died at the age of 82, he had suffered from emphysema – which he attributed to inhaling cigars – and diabetes.
In 1959, the CIA had planned on killing Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar, but that plan failed; he lived on to be 90, dying in 2016. Castro started smoking at the age of 15 and until 1985, he was rarely seen in a photograph without a cigar. That year, he quit the habit (in public, anyway) when Cuba launched a general campaign against smoking. Castro’s partner in the revolution, Che Guevara, advised guerrilla fighters to include cigars in their backpacks “because a smoke in times of rest is a great companion to the solitary soldier.”
Although Guevara was executed at the age of 39, the record of old men who puffed, or still puff, fine cigars is endless. Just to name a few: Jack Nicholson aged 81; Groucho Marx, 86; Sigmund Freud, 83; King Edward VII, 68; Duke of Windsor, 77; President Ronald Reagan, 93 … the list goes on.
Not for a second do I claim to be any sort of medical professional, nor am I going to argue with the Mayo Clinic when it says “There is no safe form of tobacco.” I’m sure its diagnosis is correct, but I love my Montecristo No. 2s (one per day). How old am I?
Not telling, but I’m sure I’ll never catch up with Richard Overton.