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I expected my first trip to cover an event in 15 months to encounter issues. I was not wrong.

My travel days always seem to start out early, and the day of my flight to Las Vegas was no different. I woke up at 4 a.m. to finish getting packed up before throwing my luggage in the car at 5 a.m. and driving to Love Field. After parking the car, I walked into the small airport only to find a line of about 130 people, all of whom were waiting to drop off their luggage to the airline.

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Thankfully, the aforementioned line moved quickly—almost shockingly quick at times—and I was easily able to make it on my plane before it took off. Almost exactly three hours after taking off in Dallas, the plane landed in Las Vegas, and I quickly picked up my luggage and hopped in a cab that took me to the Sahara. Yes, that Sahara, though it was called the SLS the last time I stayed at it.

About 30 minutes after walking into the hotel, I had my room key and knowing that I only had about an hour before I needed to be at the convention center, I promptly took a shower and got dressed before packing up all of my equipment into the proper bags and heading down to the lobby to catch the shuttle.

My first order of business was to shoot a video of two different manufacturers before most attendees were let into the show, specifically Steve Saka with Dunbarton Tobacco  & Trust and Michael Herklots with the new Ferio Tego brand.

The rest of the first day’s coverage was a whirlwind of running around to different booths, shooting photographs of cigars and people, shooting videos and updating social media. Closing time (5 p.m.) came way too soon, and after they kicked me off the show floor I went back to my room to begin the long and tedious process of downloading SD cards and working on this post.

An hour and a half later, I was on a bus to Drai’s, an outdoor nightclub that was hosting the annual TPE Industry Party, which was open to any trade show attendee. I stayed there for about an hour before heading back to the hotel, grabbing a late dinner and then working on TPE posts until after midnight, when I finally went to bed.

After spending six hours talking to people, photographing products and booths and walking around the trade show floor, here are some of my thoughts.

  • “It is great to be back.” — I heard this comment or a variation so many times from so many different people during the first day that it was an obvious addition at the top of this list. People are almost giddy—or at least as giddy as cigar industry members can be—to be talking to customers in person again. The positivity is almost palpable and has made my first day covering the trade show a bit more enjoyable.
  • Procuring cigar boxes is an ongoing issue and the problems are progressively getting worse — Whether you blame it on updated safety precautions due to the pandemic, the rising cost of wood, transport issues, or whatever else, the result is the same: cigar boxes are becoming more and more difficult to procure. This issue has already had an impact on multiple releases from at least three manufacturers I talked with. Interestingly, the issues seem to be present in all three major non-Cuban tobacco growing countries—the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua—and very few people I talked to had any real hope that the situation would do anything but get worse over the coming months.
  • The Las Vegas Convention Center is pretty serious about the whole mask thing — The rules regarding masks during the convention are pretty specific: cigars can only be smoked in booths and masks must be worn all times unless you are actively eating, drinking or smoking, none of which can take place while walking to other booths. Apparently, there were enough people who were not adhering to those rules that an email was sent out after the first day reminding people that, “Safety inspectors have been on the show floor today and will be in attendance the rest of the show.” There were also monitors walking around during the industry party—which was held at an outdoor venue—although the latter like the ones in the photograph above were quite a bit more pleasant to talk to.

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Brooks Whittington

I have been smoking cigars for over eight years. A documentary wedding photographer by trade, I spent seven years as a photojournalist for the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram. I started the cigar blog SmokingStogie in 2008 after realizing that there was a need for a cigar blog with better photographs and more in-depth information about each release. SmokingStogie quickly became one of the more influential cigar blogs on the internet, known for reviewing preproduction, prerelease, rare, extremely hard-to-find and expensive cigars. I am a co-founder of halfwheel and now serve as an editor for halfwheel.