by David "Doc" Diaz
Revised Tuesday, November 22, 2011
You open up your humidor hoping to pull out a choice stick to smoke on a fine day and, instead of a flawless, oily wrapper, you see something that looks like somebody just let-fly a load of buckshot at your prized smokes. Well, you've got troubles my friend. Trust me on that.
As I have traveled throughout the country and the world, I have been alarmed at the number of retailers who have walk-in humidors with evidence of tobacco beetles. What is a tobacco beetle and what can it do to your smokes?
A tobacco beetle is a butt-ugly bicho that has a hunched body, a hard shell covering and spikes on the ridges of its shell (see photo). In its adult stage it can fly and will move around your humidor like a Blackhawk helo, looking for more of your prized stogies. A tobacco beetle is terrifying to behold! Granted, it is ONLY a couple millimeters long, but let me tell you, these mighty midgets can reduce your cigar collection to a pile of dust in no time. Lasioderma serricorne is called by many names including, tobacco-, cigar- or cigarette-beetle. They typically hatch in conditions that exceed 73°F combined with high humidity.
Now, before you become overly concerned, you need to realize that the cigar industry works hard to stay ahead of these little buggers. I know that many people think that high temperatures will spawn beetle bugs as surely as teenager sprout zits. However, I don't think it's that simple.
Many cigar manufacturers fumigate their tobacco just after it is aged and again just before the cigars are shipped. A typical fumigant is aluminum phosphide, which is a gas-releasing pellet. This fumigant is used in a sealed room with the tobacco and after the treatment, the room is aerated to remove all traces of the poison. Fumigants used in exterminating the pests leave no harmful residue and typically evaporate within 72 hours of spraying. Other more organic treatments are designed to "rob oxygen" from the beetles during fumigation and are considered a more natural method of fumigation. Freezing can kill the tobacco beetle at any stage of its development and many cigar companies freeze their cigars prior
That said, not every manufacturer is equally diligent in their attempts to eradicate "the bug." A certain percentage of cigars will ship with viable eggs that could, under the right conditions, hatch and begin a life cycle. Of course, it goes without saying that any cigars that are made under spurious conditions have a higher likelihood of harboring bugs. Homemade cigars and some small low budget tobacco companies could pass along the beetle with higher frequency. So, as a consumer, you should try to clearly determine the origin of smokes before you put them into your humidor or humidors.
What can YOU, the consumer, do about this voracious pest?
First, you will need to look for evidence of infestation. The "buckshot" holes in your cigars are a telltale sign. Also, you can tap the foot of suspicious cigars against a flat surface. If you see a fine brown powder fall freely out of the cigar; that is further evidence. Sometimes this powder will be evident at the bottom of your humidor or singles drawer.
What are your options for dealing with an infestation? You will need to remove all cigars with holes in them, put them in a plastic bag and get them out of your house. I've actually thought about setting them on fire and letting the little beetle screams serve as a warning to other beetles to get out of town. But I decided against it.
Once you have established evidence of beetle-infestation, ALL of the cigars in your humidor have potentially been affected by the beetle plague and need to be examined carefully. Many times an outbreak will remain local to a single cigar, or box of cigars. But, you should remain vigilant after an outbreak.
Freezing your cigars. One of the few options available to consumers is to freeze their cigars. Though not a sure fire cure, it may be the only thing that saves your cigars from sacrificial tossing in favor of sacrificial torching. Here's how it's done...
Take the cigars and put them in a ziplock freezer bag and then wrap them in transparent plastic freezer wrap. This double insures that you have a vapor barrier. You can't allow any moisture into the container with your cigars and the freezer has plenty of it. Then put the package into a freezer for three days. The colder the better. If your freezer has a manual temperature selection, set the temperature as low as possible. Beetles are notoriously hearty and can survive in broad extremes of temperature.
In the meantime, clean out your humidor by vacuuming the inside and then wiping the inside with a clean slightly damp cloth. Don't use chemical cleaners or disinfectants.
After three days in the freezer, take the plastic bag and put it into the refrigerator for two more days. This reduces the shock from differences between freezer and room temperatures. Then, after 2-days in the refrigerator, allow your cigars to come back up to room temperature and then take them from the freezer bags and reintroduce the cigars into your clean humidor.
If you have an outbreak in a cabinet humidor that has boxes of cigars, take the infested box, along with all the cigars, and put it in a freezer bag and follow the freezing instructions as before. If your boxes have been sealed, they have probably limited the infestation to that single box.
Finally, you will need to deal with the conditions that started the outbreak in the first place. Beetle activity is usually initiated by humidor conditions which are too hot, too humid, or both. Check your humidor conditions often and be sure you have a calibrated hygrometer. Though the bugs can appear at almost any time, the danger range seems to be over 73°F. Move your humidor away from heat sources and out of direct sunlight. If you have your humidor in a room with a fireplace, move it to a different room or into a closet that has a more stable temperature. You may need to consider replacing your humidor if you have a poor quality or ineffective one. Don't get bested by the bug. Protect your investment and keep your smokes free of pests.
About the Author
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).blog comments powered by Disqus