As part of my multiple former careers and my current one as co-owner of this website, I have attended more conventions and trade shows than I can possibly remember that were held in a variety of different countries. One of the cigar-related trade shows I have never had the pleasure of visiting or covering is the Tobacco Plus Expo—otherwise known as TPE—but due in large part to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, that is changing this year and as a result, I will most likely be in the air on the way to Las Vegas or already there as you read this.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the TPE, here is some background information courtesy of my colleague Charlie Minato:
It’s an annual trade show hosted by Kretek International/Phillips & King, a California-based distributor of tobacco products and others. Readers of this website are probably most familiar with the company for Ventura Cigar Co., which it owns, but Kretek has a lot of other products. It sells to retailers around the country, mostly places you wouldn’t think of as a “cigar shop,” i.e. a discount tobacco outlet and independent tobacco stores, but it also probably sells to many of your local brick and mortar tobacconists.
TPE is different from the PCA Convention & Trade Show, formerly the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show, in that it includes all tobacco products and not just cigars. In recent years, TPE has tried to attract more premium cigar brands and has gone as far as to divide the show geographically between the traditional tobacco products, like cigars, and the e-cigarette, vaping and CBD products.
While TPE is typically the first major cigar-related trade show held every year—the 2021 event was originally scheduled for Jan. 27–29—this year’s event was postponed back in August 2020 due to concerns over the aforementioned coronavirus. However, it actually will remain the first cigar trade show of the year and it’s actually the first trade show being hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center since the start of the pandemic.
So with the above in mind, here are a few quick thoughts from a first-time attendee to the trade show:
- I’m a Rookie — Sure, I have attended all sorts of conventions in my time on this earth, but this is the first time I have been to this one and according to the people who have covered it before—i.e. everyone else on the halfwheel staff—TPE is unlike just about any other cigar trade show. Part of it is the sheer number of companies exhibiting that we don’t cover—more on that below—but there is also the fact that this is more of a slower-paced event where people can get some major face to face time with some of the biggest names in the cigar industry.
- TPE is a large show overall, but the cigar section is a small part of it — There’s only one trade show—I guess two, if you count the Habanos S.A. trade fair—that I cover regularly: the PCA Convention & Trade Show, formerly the IPCPR Convention & Trade Show. That trade show is all about premium cigars with a bit of other things ranging from hookahs to people selling walking canes throwing in. However, that is just not the case at TPE; in fact, the cigar manufacturers that we will be covering won’t be occupying even a third of the total number of booths. Instead, this show is said to have stronger contingents from the CBD and vaping world, along with a host of other product categories. Of course, this fact is not helped by the number of cigar companies which have chosen not to attend this year’s show for a variety of reasons, a list that includes Drew Estate, Illusione, J.C. Newman, My Father and Tatuaje. (Editor’s Note: this is all somewhat new as prior to 2019, there were very few cigar companies attending anyways.)
- This is my first in-person show since March 2020 — The last event I covered in person was the Festival del Habano XXII in Havana, Cuba, which was held just as the pandemic was starting to ramp up around the world. Although I am not really scared of traveling—I received my second COVID-19 vaccination more than a month ago—it became obvious to me while going through some pre-show meetings that I am extremely rusty. There is no doubt I have missed seeing friends in person over that time period, but I have also become accustomed to getting a decent amount of sleep, something that I fear will not continue if history is any indicator.