A Cigar-Smoker’s Worst Nightmare: Tobacco Beetles

A beautiful – and ruined – Cuban cigar

UPDATED AUG. 20, 2018

When people ask me, “what are you afraid of?” My response is usually, “Hm… uh… well I dunno… spiders maybe?”  The fact is, there just haven’t been many things in my life that truly terrify me, although if I were honest I’d say that the idea of moving back to Oregon after I graduate this year scares me (if you have any leads on jobs open in New York City, please let me know!).

A few nights ago, however, I met what I now consider the most terrifying force for evil on all of God’s green earth: tobacco beetles.

The cigar above is a Romeo Y Julieta LE 2001 Robusto. A good friend of mine gave it to me after she returned from a class in Costa Rica.  I noticed it was a little bit dried out, so I decided to try to re-humidify it. I left it in my cigar box for about a month, not knowing I was in for a bit of a surprise. Fast forward a few night, and now I’m reading articles online about an insect that I would never have in my worst dreams imagined existed: Lasioderma Serricorne, otherwise known as tobacco beetles.  I saw a picture of a cigar with a few small, pin-sized holes – and realized with a sinking feeling of dread that the same Cuban sitting in my humidor had two of those holes. I read this at about 12:30am, and here was my mental reaction:

Oh. My. God. Those… things… killed…
OH MY GOD! They are in the humidor with the REST OF MY CIGARS!

Still, I wasn’t sure if they were the same, so I ran to my room, pulled the cigar out of the box, and tested it the way I had seen online: holding the end of the cigar over the sink, I tapped the foot with my finger.  To my sleep-deprived astonishment, a flurry of little pieces of black beetle-excrement dropped into the sink. I sat there for the next half an hour trying to make sure I got all of the stuff out.

The beetles bored holes through the outer wrapper leaf of the cigars

From there, I wrapped the cigar in a plastic bag and threw it in the freezer, along with all of my other cigars (separately packaged). I wanted to kill any of those lingering bastards just in case they had crawled into any of my other sticks, which thankfully I’ve learned they didn’t.  Two days later, I moved the cigars from the freezer to the refrigerator, and a day later moved them back to my humidor after I had cleaned it from edge to edge to make sure none of the tiny critters had stayed in the box.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “why did you put the destroyed cigar back in the humidor?”  That’s a great question. Perhaps it’s because it was such a pretty cigar. Perhaps I thought maybe it was still smoke-able. And that last one is partially true – I didn’t know if it would still be smoke-able, but I decided to take one for the team just for your benefit.

Can you smoke a cigar that had tobacco beetles? Let’s find out…

Yesterday, I pulled the cigar out of the (at this point) separate box and cut it with all I had on hand – a single-edge blade. Needless to say, it didn’t cut very well, but it was good enough.  I lit it and my smoking experience lasted maybe 5 or 10 minutes. It was obvious right off of the bat that smoking a destroyed cigar (even with just two pin-holes) was not something a cigar smoker should do.

The taste of what should have been a wonderful cigar made me want to cry. It was as if there was an epic battle going on between the burning of the tobacco that was still intact and the already-digested tobacco that still lined the inside of the cigar.

I realize that’s pretty visual, but bear with me a moment while I describe the taste of burning insect excrement:

There are few appropriate words I could use to describe the taste. The first that comes to mind is stale. The smoke seemed lifeless, completely dead – without the flavor and vibrance that I enjoy in every other smoke. The first time I lit the cigar, it just didn’t seem to want to light. The tobacco was red hot, but there was definitely problems with the structure of the inside of the cigar. Many of the inside layers of filler tobacco were completely chewed up by the beetles.

I decided to cut the cigar a few inches down and see if I could achieve a better draw. Unfortunately, it worked. There was heavy acidity.  And perhaps the most disgusting part of the whole ordeal was that the smoke didn’t ever seem to leave my mouth. I found the taste and texture of the burning, rotted material sticking around in my mouth, even after I had put the cigar out and rinsed my mouth with water twice! I also started to feel a bit sick after about ten minutes. Gross.

Final verdict: Can you smoke a cigar-beetle infested cigar? Technically, yes. My advice, though, is if you get tempted to smoke a beetle-ravaged cigar that has the tell-tale signs of infestation, DO NOT DO IT. I know it is heartbreaking, especially when it is a cigar (or cigars) you cherish, but you have to toss them and then immediately ensure the safety of your other cigars. If you are still tempted after all of the above, though, then just imagine this: cutting the cigar, putting it into your mouth to light it, and feeling little, tiny legs crawling into your mouth. An extreme warning? Not at all.

Alright, so let’s get to some solutions, shall we?

How to get rid of tobacco beetles…

There are a few methods, but the most common is by using the freezer. I’ll be 100% honest with you: if you have a few cigars that seem to be affected, do not try to revive them: throw them away. The freezer method outlined below exists to save all of the other cigars in your humidor. To reiterate: throw away any cigars that already have pinholes in them or have what looks like dust falling from the foot when turned right side up.

Here’s the method to protect your cigars from tobacco beetles:

  1. Place all of the cigars that you want to treat in a ziplock bag. Then double bag using another ziplock bag. Having a tight seal is critical to avoiding issues with freezer burn.
  2. Place the bags in the freezer for at least 24 – 36 hours. This kills any remaining tobacco beetles and ruptures the eggs of any larvae.
  3. After 24 – 36 hours, remove the bags and put them into the refrigerator. Let sit for three days. It is critical that you don’t put the cigars into the humidor straight away. The sudden increase in temperature will cause the outer wrapper leaf to expand too quickly and rupture, meaning all of your cigars will unravel.
  4. Once the three days are up, move your cigars back to your humidor.

Of course, you also need to take care of your humidor during this time. So, while the cigars are in the freezer/refrigerator, you should:

  1. Use a vacuum hose on the inside of the humidor including corners.
  2. Use a clean, slightly damp towel to wipe down the inside of the humidor.
  3. Let dry.
  4. Repeat steps 1 – 3 depending on how paranoid you are.
  5. Complete

In all seriousness, you shouldn’t need to clean your humidor multiple times, but damnit when your talking about losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of cigars, it pays to be a bit cautious.