There is a famous saying in México that is used in reference to someone who has died. It goes, “Ya chupó faros y se fue al cielo”. In English it roughly means “He smoked his last Faro and went to Heaven” leaving no doubt that the poor guy met his final destiny and passed on to a new horizon. The name “Faro” means “Lighthouse” and it is the name of one of the oldest and best known brands of cigarettes in Mexico. In days gone by it was an “economical” unfiltered cigarette that was favored by the common worker, not so much because it was a good smoke, but mainly because it was strong and cheap. In fact, Faros were so strong that they were wrapped in rice paper that had been sweetened with sugar to make them more palatable and they were associated with a hoarse voice and an inevitable cough. Needless to say that the people who smoked Faros were not planning to live a particularly long life. Many people attribute the phrase “Ya chupó Faros” to the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1917. During this period a lot of revolutionaries were executed by firing squad and it was the custom to offer the condemned man a cigarette before the execution in order to calm his nerves. Since Faros was a popular brand the remark is associated with the last cigarette of the condemned prisoner. The thing is that Faros didn’t originate until 1918 which was a year after the Revolution ended. Nevertheless the Cristero War soon followed and in those days there were no shortages of executions by firing squad. These days the phrase “Ya chupó Faros” is so widely ingrained in the language and culture that it can also be applied to anything that has “died” such as a car, a television set, or a computer, etc.
The history of the tobacco industry in Mexico is old and colorful. Cigars and cigarettes were made individually by hand up until the 1880’s and sometimes women in the market place used corn husks to wrap the cigarettes and sold them in little bundles. The first man to really mechanize the cigarette making process was a Frenchman named Ernesto Pugibet. He was quite an enthusiastic character and a true entrepreneur. He came to Mexico after a short stay in Cuba where he learned a bit about the Tobacco Industry. He may have been attracted to Mexico by President Porfirio Díaz who at that time was urging foreign investors to participate in the development of Mexico and offered them guarantees and security. Señor Pugibet started out with a small shop in the center of Mexico City and later formed a company called “El Buen Tono”. The phrase “buen tono” can mean “good tone” as in “good tone of voice” or the “good tone” of a musical instrument but it can also mean “stylish” or “elegant”. After a few years of overseeing his workers make cigarettes by hand Señor Pugibet bought the exclusive use and distribution rights to a machine that would make cigarette paper tubes without gluing the seam from an associate named Anatolio Eduardo Decouflé. Up until that time making the seam in the cigarette paper was done individually by hand using various types of glue. The new machine stitched the edges of the paper seam together using tiny perforations and thus eliminated the need for the noxious glue an thus improving the taste of the cigarette while at the same time speeding up the fabrication process. From about 1890 on, the making of cigarettes individually by hand in small shops ended and the era of cigarette factories began.
By the year 1900 there were 743 companies in Mexico making cigarettes. By 1975 all of the cigarette manufacturers in Mexico had been consolidated into six companies;
Fábrica de Cigarrillos Baloyán
Fábrica de Cigarrillos La Libertad
The history surrounding the consolidations of Mexican cigarette manufacturers over the years is very complicated and difficult to follow. Sometimes events were mandated by economic difficulties and sometimes by nefarious circumstances and political intrigue. By the year 2000 all of the cigarette brands had consolidated under just three manufacturers;
Cigarrera La Moderna (Cigamod)
Cigarrera La Tabacalera Mexicana (Cigatam)
La Libertad (LL)
In 1918 a man named Emetrio Padilla established a company called “La Tabacalera Nacional” in Irapuato, Guanajuato (where I live) and he began producing the famous “Faros” brand. The Faros brand eventually ended up with Cigarrera la Tabacalera Mexicana (Cigatam). Cigatam was founded in 1907. By 1919 this company and its associate, El Buen Tono (with whom it merged in 1960) produced more than half of the national consumption of tobacco. Today, Cigatam and Cigamod (British American Tobacco) comprise 99% of the Mexican market for cigarettes. Cigatam is part of Grupo Carso which also owns Sanborns, Sears of Mexico, Condumex, and a host of other companies. The word “Carso” in “Grupo Carso” stands for Carlos Slim and Soumaya Domit de Slim (the deceased wife of Slim). Yes, that’s right folks…Faros, the one time favorite brand of the poor Mexican peon, is now owned by one of the world’s richest men. Not only that, but Cigatam is in partnership with Phillip Morris International who handles the cigarette marketing under a number of traditional popular brand names.
In 2005 Phillip Morris took Faros, one of the oldest and cheapest cigarette brands, and reintroduced in the market with a new presentation as a cult brand. The apparent intent is for Faros to be adopted by a young elite clientele with a taste for exclusive and authentic Mexican things that are retro and cool. The marketing people want to reposition Faros as underground and trendy in a youth market where cigarette brands communicate status. The only other time a change was made to the Faros brand was in the 50's, when a designer approached José María Basagoiti, the grandson of the Spanish immigrant who founded Tabacalera Mexicana and bought Faros from Emetrio Padilla . The designer pointed to a tiny detail in the picture on the Faros pack. The flags on the masts of the boat were flying in one direction and the smoke from the boat’s chimney was going in the other direction. Basagoiti decided to correct the picture but the shopkeepers began returning the cigarettes with the new packages as soon as they arrived. Their customers noticed the change right away and thought that the cigarettes were contraband or fakes. The picture on the pack had to be restored to the original version. Right then and there it became apparent how ingrained the Faros image was in the Mexican psyche. Phillip Morris wants to build on that image and transform it from a soft pack product of sixteen non filtered cigarettes that sold for three pesos per pack into an upscale product packaged in a tin of twenty oval shaped filtered cigarettes with one third less tobacco content that sells for twenty-five pesos per tin.
The new upscale Faros come in five presentations or “flavors”;
Morena de Fuego
I was able to find three of the five at my local Sanborns and you can see the pictures below. Since I don’t smoke I can’t really tell you how they taste. The “Clasica” is just a regular filtered cigarette, oval in shape (sorry, no rice paper) and it is supposed to taste something like a Marlboro. The “Morena de Fuego” supposedly tastes a bit like chocolate. The “Furia Tropical is reported to taste like tuti-fruti. The “Suspiro Esmerelda” is a menthol cigarette. As yet I don’t have a clue as to what the “Terciopelo Amarillo” tastes like. I have heard, however, that “Furia Tropical” and “Suspiro Esmerelda” are big sellers. I can only imagine what the poor bastards who smoked their last Faro before standing in front of a firing squad would think if they knew that their great, great grandchildren would be smoking tuti-fruti flavored cigarettes. I think that if they could still talk to us they would say, “¡Ah caray! ¿Cómo ves? Faros ya chupó Faros.