This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Cigarette review videos on YouTube tend to follow the same format: The reviewer removes the cellophane from their pack, takes out a cigarette, smells it, describes the smell, comments on the tobacco, tastes the cigarette, does a “dry inhale,” (i.e., inhaling an unlit cigarette) lights the cigarette, takes a draw, and exhales. The people making these videos are Midwesterners, like the guys behind the accounts NickTheSmoker and AnalogCigarette, and European college students like Sam Kilchör of SamsTobaccoReviews, the last of whose videos garner tens of thousands of views. They stick to a tried-and-true formula, delivering a classic YouTube trope—essentially, unboxing—but for smokers and people fascinated by them.
On his YouTube channel, 21-year-old Kilchör reviews cigarettes from across the world for his 13,000 subscribers. Kilchör's favorite cigarettes are Camel unfiltered (which are hard to find in his home country of Switzerland) and Marlboros. But he believes his review of the Indonesian cigarettes Dji Sam Soe Super Premium led to his popularity on YouTube. “I think the algorithm took my video and put it in the ‘recommended’ thing,” Kilchör said. “That would explain why I got, like, 400,000 views."
Kilchör created his channel after one of his favorite cigarette review accounts became dormant. “I was working in a tobacco shop specializing in cigars and pipes,” says Kilchör. “One day I stumbled upon RealCigReviews by this guy Dan. They were absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, Big Tobacco sued his ass and he had to stop [posting] the reviews. I wanted to fill in the void caused by his unwanted departure.”
RealCigReviews is notorious in the genre: One Reddit thread allegedly sheds a little light on Dan’s situation, which he's referenced in vaping and gaming videos since—“RealCigReviews” was hit with a lawsuit from Top Tobacco, which asserted its ownership over the world “real.” An even more famous defunct account considered to be a pioneer in the cigarette review ecosystem, Rjthesmoker, was run by a prolific cigarette reviewer who passed away a few years ago from lung cancer. Across nearly a decade, Rijthesmoker posted hundreds of videos.
In a few dozen of his post-cancer videos, RJ explained his diagnosis to his fans and reflected upon his life as a smoker and cigarette reviewer. In one of the last videos he ever made, "MY LIFE AS RJTHESMOKER PART 3," RJ summed up what it was about smoking that he enjoyed so much: “Smoking [took me] on a worldwide journey without leaving my armchair,” RJ said, as he smoked a cigarette.
Kilchör's videos are different from RJ’s in that they’re far more succinct, straightforward, and focused on the product instead of himself. Sam goes into the nuanced smells and flavors in cigarettes, explaining how some have a “bubblegum smell with a spicy flavor.” They’re more businesslike, attracting fans who are genuinely interested in the product as opposed to the person.
“My favorite part of these reviews is the diversity,” said Kilchör. “I've tried cigarettes and met people from all around the world. I like chatting with folks… these reviews give me plenty of people to talk to.” These people are guys like Yudha from Indonesia, or Henry from Moldova—just two of Kilchör's fans who export cigarettes from abroad (by way of CigaretKretek and CigSpot) for Kilchör to smoke and review.
Kilchör has hundreds of videos reviewing hundreds of cigarette packs from all over the world, thanks in part to his robust viewership. His audience is a hodgepodge typical of cigarette review videos: tobacco enthusiasts, industry professionals, and commenters leaving feedback like “Smoking kills!!!!!!!!” Not all of Kilchör’s commenters are anti-smoking—most are smokers suggesting which brand he should smoke next.
Nostalgia is another running through line of the comments sections on these videos. “My father smoked the unfiltered Pall Malls for years,” commented Ray Faircloth on a video NickTheSmoker made in 2017. “He always pronounced it Pell Mell.”
The nonsmokers who frequent these channels (per the comments, there are tons of them) get a thrill out of living vicariously through the young, healthy guys ripping into pack after pack. “Camels used to be my brand before I quit in 2008,” commented user Stop the Philosophical Zombies on a video where Kevin reviewed a pack of 17-year-old Camel Lights. “I sometimes miss them but not so much that I'd pick up again.” Otherwise, the viewership is composed of teenagers, curious parties interested in picking up the habit, and libertine smokers in search of unique smoking experiences, like the one Kilchör explored in his Dji Sam Soe video.
26-year-old Chicagoan Nick of NickTheSmoker, who asked that his last name be omitted for privacy, said, “I’m committed, not addicted." He has made almost half a decade’s worth of 10- to 12-minute videos, mostly shot in his car. “I started smoking when I was 18,” said Nick, “and I started seeing all these guys on YouTube like rjthesmoker and thought I could do better.” With cigarettes sent to him by loyal viewers from around the world, Nick’s reviewed hundreds of brands, with most videos averaging around 40,000 views.
Despite a disclaimer on the About section of his page ("If you are under age respective to your local laws, it's highly advised you do not view these videos") Nick’s videos violate YouTube’s “advertiser-friendly content guidelines ," which state, "Content that promotes tobacco and tobacco-related products is not suitable for advertising." But YouTube simply can’t closely monitor every popular channel that pops up on their site, so guys like Nick can make money through ad revenue even though it’s not technically allowed.
“When I didn’t do anything to my channel for four months is when I got my biggest increase,” said Nick, “I don’t know what YouTube did to their algorithm or whatever, but for some reason, I got a ton of traffic.” Still, Nick is sure to mention repeatedly that he does not make a lot of money off of ad revenue. “It’s enough for me to go out and buy more cigarettes, but I couldn’t live off it.”
The idea of encyclopedic expertise within smoking is what attracted another reviewer, 26-year-old Kevin Thomas of AnalogCigarette, to not only making his own smoking channel on YouTube, but to cigarettes in the first place. "My intention starting out as a regular smoker was to really get to know it. I'm that way with all my hobbies: diving in headfirst and really looking to get the most out of it," said Thomas. "I decided if I was going to be doing this anyway—why not share?"
With only 423 subscribers and less than 200 views per upload, Thomas, who is 26, makes videos to find a rarefied kind of kinship. “I used to watch cigarette reviews quite a bit… even before I was a regular smoker," said Thomas, who lives outside of Chicago. "I sort of love the spirit of them. It’s like, Hey, I like this thing that a lot of people hate…but you get me. It's a place of understanding. The internet is cool like that.
"I started watching cigarette reviews as a curious consumer. I legitimately just wanted people's opinions on what to try next. I was surprised to find a community of people with a shared experience," Thomas said. "A vast majority of folks really look down on smokers. It's just nice to connect with somebody who gets it.”
For Kilchör, Nick, and Thomas, making cigarette review videos are about more than how to "properly" enjoy a cigarette. They’re lovers of tobacco, but what also drives them to keep producing videos are the fans from across the globe who smoke along with them—or want to experience the pleasure these reviewers find in cigarettes secondhand.
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