The History of Backwoods Smokes

Backwoods Smokes AD from 1983

Backwoods Smokes AD from 1983

As an inner-city kid growing up poor in New York City and learning from what I witnessed in the streets (yes, this is a real thing), I've come to appreciate and desire information and the details of the very products and ideas that we preserve and claim in the culture.

My earliest memory with Backwood Smokes was through hip-hop. Growing up in Harlem in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, it seemed as if all the songs on the radio mentioned Backwoods. It was hip-hop’s muse:

“Uhh... I'm flamin' gats, aimin' at

These fuckin' maniacs, put my name in raps

What part the game is that? Like they hustle backwards

I smoke Backwoods and Dutchies; you can't touch me

Try to rush me; slugs go, touchy-touchy.”

- Long Kiss Goodnight, The Notorious B.I.G. (1997)

And even still today:

“These days, all I do is

Wonder if you're bendin' over backward for someone else

Wonder if you're rolling up a Backwoods for someone else

Doing things I taught you, gettin' nasty for someone else

You don't need no one else.”

- Hotline Bling, Drake (2016)

The other day, while exiting the train station at my stop in The Bronx, I heard a brother yell, "I JUST WANT A BEEF PATTY WITH CHEESE AND A BACKWOODS BRO." And I have to admit I felt that. I mean it was 8 pm on a weekday, it was cold outside, and it was dinnertime. I would have taken a beef patty (hold the cheese) and a backwoods too. At that very moment, I wondered how much we actually know about Backwoods Smokes. Who makes it? Who owns it? Where is it produced? How does it get to the bodegas? Where can you buy it? Why are they considered the most prized wrap for inner-city smokers in the hood?

Backwood Smokes cigar was introduced to the smoking scene by tobacco company Altadis U.S.A. in 1973, shortly after the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was passed by President Nixon. The PHCSA was put in place to reduce smoking by adding a very obvious health warning on all cigarettes packs stating: "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health." Despite this drama, Backwoods Smokes skyrocketed with success and in sales almost overnight even after the act was in place - and it was 90% due to their advertisement.

I'd say that's smart. This is a Backwoods Smokes commercial from 1982

Altars U.S.A figured the PHCSA was targeting cigarettes primarily so why not produce a causal, tasty, small, wild cigar instead?

The machine-made Backwoods cigar has an untamed natural beauty with its petite size, tapered body, and unfinished, frayed head. The Backwood has an inner leaf and an outer leaf, but we don't always get both. The all-natural tobacco inside of the Backwood comes from the Dominican Republic, and the genuine broadleaf wrapper is made in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and aged for 12 months, which allows for the natural sweetness to emerge to its surface before the addition of any flavors. Some Backwood flavors include the Original Wild N’ Mild, Honey, Honey Berry, Bourbon, Sweet Aromatic, Black N’ Sweet Aromatic, and even Vin (wine). Many of the coveted flavors - like Vanilla and Banana - are hard to find.

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What keeps these leaves smelling and tasting fresh and good is the moisture-proof re-sealable packaging which was made to carry around comfortably in your pocket.

In Backwoods cigars are something between a front leaf and a cigarillo. But they are rolled differently than most cigars, as you don't need to cut down the middle of the cigar to open it up.

Wait, why would you want to open it? LOL.

I am glad you asked... In the early 1980s, while Backwoods Smokes was climbing the sales chart up against other tobacco products, Backwoods were quickly being netted into cannabis and hip-hop culture in the hood. The soft and moist cigar is the 'hood’s most prized wrap, the inner-city smoker's splurge.

Here is Hot New Hip Hip’s Youtube channel which features musicians like Lil Baby, Twista, Jim Jones, Xzhibit, and Too Short offering tutorials on how to roll a blunt with a Backwood of their choice. Here is Tory Lanez:

When you go into a bodega to buy a Backwoods Smokes, it is recommended that you squeeze the packet to check for freshness and softness. A hard and dry Backwoods is going to require a lot of your saliva to unravel and rewrap.

To start, after you open the packaging which contains a cigar, you can start pulling the wrap apart to discard of the tobacco and replace it with marijuana, which by the way, as of right now is legal ONLY in the District of Columbia, and 10 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Backwoods Smokes are available at bodegas, and a pack of five can cost anywhere from $4 to $10, depending on where you live in the country. Individual ones can cost upwards of $2. You can buy 8 five packs for $39.99 at a lot of places online, but most require buyers to be 21+.

Photo: Hacienda Smoke Shop/ Yelp

Photo: Hacienda Smoke Shop/ Yelp

It goes without saying, but SMOKING KILLS. It is a fact. And last year, the Big Tobacco Companies admitted it and have now started paying for advertisement AGAINST cigarettes and tobacco products. BE responsible.