A story I wrote way back in March about cigarettes and smoking still pulls in a few hits a week at our website, triad-city-beat.com, which tells me that a few people out there are still interested in smoking.
There are just about 42 million smokers in the United States, 18 percent of the adult population, though the cohort shrinks every year as smokers are literally a dying breed.
But there are still enough of us left to make one hell of an economic impact. At $5 a pack, we spend perhaps $76 billion a year with our pack-a-day habits.
So here’s the pitch: We have the pre-eminent cigarette maker in the country — Reynolds American — throw an annual, international smokers festival in downtown Winston-Salem.
The Millennium Center would act as the hub for a sprawling convention that would encompass galleries, clubs, entertainment halls and office buildings, with a full slate of programming that would complement the theme.
A modern tobacco festival would include several features that pay homage to the industry’s past while debuting new products for the smokers of the future. Art galleries could display cigarette ads through the ages. Shuttles would leave hourly for tours of the Tobaccoville plant. Jazz by Newport. Mechanical bull by Winston. Organic meals by American Spirit. Think of the swag: lighters, ashtrays, T-shirts, hats… a bajillion Camel Bucks’ worth. And we could erect temporary smoking stations all over the district.
There is some precedent for this. Back in the 1800s, Winston-Salem’s tobacco market was the epicenter of the industry, where growers and factory owners settled on the take for the annual crop.
And cigarettes still have a notable, albeit dwindling, cultural cachet. We should cash in on it while it’s still viable.