It Just Might Work: Small-batch tobacco

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_D5C5045brianby Brian Clarey

I spoke with a friend and longtime Lorillard employee the other day about the Newport buyout. He wondered if he’d survive in the new RJ Reynolds regime, and if not, then what he’d do for the rest of his career.

He’s been in cigarettes a long time, he said, and there are fewer and fewer players in the industry every year where he can work.

And that’s when it hit me.

People love craft beer. They are into locally sourced foods. And there’s this whole movement against big corporations and towards a more human economy.

So why not enlist a couple of hippie farmers to grow a few acres of tobacco using the time-honored (and legally mandated) techniques, producing an artisanal, boutique product available locally and in specialty stores?

Call it “Preferred Smoke” or “Carolina Leaf” or “Tobacco Town.” Whatever. It’s a small-batch, craft tobacco made by hand in the heart of Tobacco Country, available only in pouches because 1: Rolling one’s own cigarettes is a most precious affectation, and 2: It eliminates the expense of actually manufacturing cigarettes, which takes a whole army of very fast machines.

This is brilliant because it touches on all the most prevalent trends: local and organic farming, affordable luxuries, old-fashioned vices and the lure of obscure and rare products.

“What kind of cigarette is that?”

“Oh, this? It’s a Carolina Leaf. They only make a few thousand pouches of it a year. And of course, you have to roll it yourself, but I think it smokes much better that way, don’t you?”

Plus there’s the whole smoking thing, a statement unto itself about breaking society’s norms, living dangerously and identifying with vestiges of a culture gone by.

Put it in a cool pouch that the hipsters can chain to their belts, and they’ll be buying this stuff up faster than old vinyl and the kinds of shirts I used to wear in the third grade.

Find a few ex-tobacco guys to work through the FDA hurdles, convince the farmers themselves to hawk it at farmers markets and craft fairs, get a few high-end tobacconists to carry it and you are in business.

And if the price comes in below $50, which is about what I spend on a carton of cigarettes, I’ll buy it myself — but only if it comes in a cool pouch.