How to Unplug a Cigar

It happens, and fortunately it happens rarely; but when it does there are few things in life more irritating. I refer to the odd, plugged cigar. Nothing is more of a buzz kill than lighting-up one of your favorite cigars only to realize you’re probably going to need a shop-vac to get any smoke out of it. Since it’s more the exception than the rule, cigar smokers aren’t usually prepared to deal with a cigar that refuses to let go.

The question is, what do you do when it happens? Depending on where you are, like away from home, you may not have the necessary tools handy to deal with the situation. I’ve read a lot of emails in which the “victim” simply trashed the cigar. Even more upsetting is reading that the majority of the box or bundle was plugged.

Although it may be necessary in some cases, trashing a plugged cigar doesn’t have to be the only option. There are a number of products on the market to help you deal with cigars that don’t draw properly. My theory is, even if the tool doesn’t solve the problem, it’s always better to try than give up.

Draw pokerThe most popular of un-plugging tools is the Drawpoker. Due to its size, you can’t just stuff it in your pocket and carry it around. However, it has a vise-like section that holds your cigar steady while the needle is inserted through the center of the cigar.

Another item that’s a bit more portable is the Maverick Quick Draw Cigar Awl. It’s little more than an ice pick that you can get at discount super store for about 97ยข. It also comes with a smaller skewer-like awl for smaller cigars, which is a nice plus. One piece of advice: If you’re traveling by plane, leave it home or put it in your check-on, because TSA will snatch it up in less than a nanosecond.

Havana draw enhancer pen

Perhaps the most convenient cigar-unplugging solution is the Havana draw enhancer pen. Because it looks like and is the size of the average pen, you can slip it into your pocket and take it anywhere. What also makes this tool more effective is, unlike the two aforementioned devices, the needle has little serrations on it which literally slice through the tobacco leaves going in and coming out.

The one thing to be aware of when using any of these tools is you have to have a surgeon-like approach. Work slow and steady. Many a cigar that could have been saved has been toe-tagged DOA because the tool was inserted too quickly and either caused the cigar to expand and tear the wrapper, or it popped out through the side of the cigar. (Oops.)

I advise starting at the foot, and try to center the needle as best you can. Work it in slowly while turning it, and don’t push your luck. Get as far as you can, then remove it and try puffing. If it hasn’t improved that much try doing the same starting from the head. If the plug is in the middle, you could be out of luck, though the Drawpoker is designed to ream the entire length of the cigar.

Some alternatives

There’s often no need to buy a tool at all for unplugging cigars. Sometimes all you need is a large paper clip or an ordinary toothpick. Believe it or not, while writing this article I had a plugged cigar and I used a mini screwdriver that I keep around for adjusting and bleeding my cigar lighters.

Cigar smokers are also very resourceful. If you follow the CigarAdvisor newsletter, some of the solutions offered by the readers in the Tips section range from using a small drill bit to a three-inch drywall screw. Just remember, the thinner, the better. Moreover, the advantage to the drill bit and the screw is, like the Draw Enhancer Pen, they also chew up some of the surrounding tobaccos.

One last piece of advice: Regardless of the tool you use to clear the plug, if you get even a little more relief from the draw, try to stay with it. You may find that eventually the cigar will burn past the affected area and clear up on its own.

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  1. Michael Elliott says:

    It may also be that the “plug” or hard draw is the result of the rolling style (at the cap end) of the [roller]. I experience this problem almost always with RyJ cigars which ship very wet, and even after proper humidification, still draw poorly. Simply trimming the cap much deeper than usual helps a lot. Just keep taking a little off and eventually the draw may improve. Trying this first avoids the risks that go with using a poker.

  2. Gary Korb says:

    Although you might be onto something here, there’s only one drawback to your solution. If the cap is clipped too far, you risk the wrapper unraveling. I’m also surprised to read that this is happening with RyJ cigars. I’d be curious to know if it’s a specific line extension, since I can’t remember the last time I had a problem with any Romeo y Julieta. Thanks again for the comment.
    ~ G.K.

  3. Michael Elliott says:

    I’ve never had a wrapper unravel, even after clipping as much as 1/2 inch plus. I admit that the edge that results from cutting deep is not as pleasant to the lip as the round of the cap but it’s a small price to pay when compared to the frustration of dealing with poor draw.
    What constitutes a decent draw is subjective. I have a buddy who smokes RyJ 1875 Churchill tubos, 3 a day. He’s amazed that I, smoking the same cigar, think the draw is tight. I have found that the Altadis offerings have been for the most part much tighter, frustratingly so, that say La Aurora or Fuente etc. I smoke H.Uppman (also Altadis) Vintage Cameroon, 2 a day, and most sizes are unacceptably tight. Someone at the Fuente cigar forum mentioned the deep trim and it has really helped.

  4. Carl Enns says:

    When I get a plugged cigar, I will usually cut the cigar down to where the plug is, basically getting rid of the plug and now having a smokeable cigar. If it is in the center, I will cut it down (lately I have been smoking double coronas, so I end up with at least four inches of smokeable cigar ). I’ve found using a draw poker that it never worked, the cigar would still be plugged. What is worse than a plugged cigar is a cigar that is rolled too tightly. That makes it totally un-smokable with nothing that you can do about it at all.

  5. JED PAZ says:


  6. C Filler says:

    Check out Plugged Cigar Tool on Ebay and You Tube. Removes tobacco from cigar.

  7. RHamlin says:

    I use the paper clip trick, sometimes it may take a few times working it thru the plug but eventually I can usually get an acceptable draw.

  8. Braz Davis says:

    I tend to use a small drill bit to unstick my tight smokes. It seems to keep them from busting the wrapper open since it actually drills a hole instead of just expanding the cigar.

  9. Peter Crayne says:

    A small kebab stick works just fine. By carefully centering and inserting the stick it may be run through the full length of the cigar, providing a light draw.

  10. Gary Korb says:

    That’s true. Just about anything long, very thin and sharp will do. What’s nice about a drill bit or screw is that they actually cut away some of the tobacco when removed, but as I always say, whatever works.

  11. Rodger Jacobs says:

    The first thing I do with a plugged cigar is let it rest out of my humidor for a couple of days. This usually improves the draw. If it’s still plugged, I use a five inch industrial sewing machine needle set in a wood handle to probe for draw.