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Cigar makers converge on Las Vegas Strip for convention

Retired NBA champion Tiago Splitter said his favorite cigar reminds him of his career: It starts mellow and gets stronger and stronger until you reach the end.

The former San Antonio Spur might be biased, though. It’s the M.X.S. Tiago Splitter, one of several lines of luxury cigars that Splitter and co-founder Luciano Meirelles launched with their company, A.C.E. Prime, at the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association annual convention.

High-end cigar manufacturers from around the world set up shop at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, along with distributors and companies showcasing lighters, humidors, pipes and other accessories.

Splitter and Meirelles met at a church group, started talking about cigars and ended up going into business together. They initially produced cigars for other companies before launching their own. Nine-time NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins also has an eponymous line of M.X.S. cigars.

“Our cigars are made with real passion” and are hand-rolled in Nicaragua, Meirelles said Sunday. “Most people don’t know that 200 hands and souls worked on that cigar before it goes in your mouth.”

That kind of passion is what makes a good cigar, said Robert Cantillo of Foundation Cigar Company. He said he grew up next door to the company’s founder and master blender, Nick Melillo.

Melillo started smoking cigars at the end of high school and worked at a cigar shop through college. After more than a decade with Drew Estate, another cigar manufacturer, he launched his own company with a factory in Esteli, Nicaragua.

“He’s a stickler for consistency,” Cantillo said. “Our cigars are all hand-rolled, so of course there’s room for human error. So he’s out on the floor making sure everything goes right.”

There’s a lot to learn for the would-be cigar smoker, said Christine Martinez de Castro of Gurkha Cigar Group. There are different sizes, fillers, wrappers and binders, different strengths and tasting notes. On top of the cigar-smoking experience, however, there’s the cigar-smoking lifestyle.

“If you’re going to smoke a cigar, you’re going to sit back and smoke it,” Martinez de Castro said. “We are honing in on that lifestyle, the boxes, the packaging — everything about it is supposed to feel like a luxury.”

Not everyone who smokes cigars wears a suit, though. That’s the thought behind Warfighter Tobacco, a company founded and owned by combat veterans.

“Everybody in the military has smoked a cigar. We wanted to be ourselves and give them a product they could identify with,” President Scott Jansen said.

The company also supports Cigars for Warriors, a nonprofit that sends cigars to troops overseas.

“When you’re in Afghanistan, having that hour and a half to sit back and relax is everything,” he said.

Las Vegas is all about relaxation, and that’s why it’s a great cigar town, said Drew Newman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co. Newman’s grandfather founded the company in 1895.

“Las Vegas is full of world-class cigar lounges,” Newman said. “Premium cigars are as essential to Las Vegas as the beautiful hotels and casinos that are here.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Contact Max Michor at mmichor@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0365. Follow @MaxMichor on Twitter.

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