A reader requested that I write up a blog post about “tobacco scents,” and I think that’s a good idea. After all, I’ve read quite a few claims about tobacco notes where I didn’t detect them, so it’s not a bad idea to try and clarify as much as possible here. I’ll begin by pointing out that a note is an impression, and of course with tobacco there are different kinds, from fresh and leafy to “brown” and dried to hay-like to flavored (as in pipe tobacco). Moreover, some talk about smelling things like “cigarettes in an ashtray,” for example (I probably have at one time!). In this post, I’ll talk about my experiences in the world of scents, but keep in mind that I’m not a smoker and never have been; actual smoke seems to give me headaches, especially from a cigar.
Perhaps the most common kind of scent that gets classified as tobacco are ones rich in tonka, such as Bogart Pour Homme and Joop! Le Bain. These seem to tend towards a more pipe tobacco quality. Also, there is often a denseness to them that they seem to have a “love it or hate it” quality. However, in a scent like Trussardi L’Uomo (not Uomo), there is this kind of tobacco note but it doesn’t dominate, as is the case with Bogart Pour Homme. Instead, it seems to be one of several notes in a nicely dynamic composition. Keep in mind that I’m not arguing that ones like Bogart Pour Homme is a tobacco scent, but rather that many perceive them that way. Perhaps the best example of this kind would be Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme (vintage formulation), though that one may have a “real” tobacco note in it as well as clear tonka.
By contrast, scents like Michael for Men (Kors) comes across to me as a “true” pipe tobacco scent, though it has a few other strong notes as well. It certainly isn’t a “tonka overload” scent. On the other hand are ones with more of a “brown” and “leafy” quality, such as Havana or Feuilles de Tabac. Obviously, Havana is quite complex, with strong spicy, woody, and powdery qualities, so I suggest Feuilles de Tabac if you want a more straightforward tobacco note of this type. As to the “ashtray with cigarette butts in it” effect, it seems like the opening of The Dreamer is the best (or at least most accessible) scent of this type (some might say that Jasmin et Cigarette does a better job at this, though; I sampled that one long ago and simply don’t remember).
Another not-really-tobacco note can be found (by those who perceive it) in scents with a strong and dry cedar note. Perhaps a touch of tonka aids in this perception. Black Walnut by Banana Republic has this quality, for example, though of course it may have some “real” tobacco as well. However, there are those such as Cuba Red, which feature dry cedar without the tonka. I find this one too “screechy” for me, at least the last time I wore it. I don’t perceive it as a tobacco scent but more like a dry cedar and spice accord though not possessing high-quality ingredients (as one might expect given its retail price). If you want a more naturalistic cedar/tobacco type scent, I suggest Joint for Men by Rocobarocco, though it’s got quite a bit of other things going on as well.
One kind of tobacco note impresses me as dry but not leafy, almost as if dried tobacco leaves had been ground into a fine powder and then used in small quantities, imparting a kind of transparency to the scent. The best example I can remember of this type is Stile Uomo by Sergio Tacchini. I think Mustang by Estee Lauder also generated this kind of impression (I haven’t worn it in a very long time). This type of tobacco note is best for warmer weather, whereas the tonka-based ones are among the best for cooler weather, generally-speaking. I should also mention that I once purchased tobacco absolute (a thick black sludge) and tried to combine it with vanilla extract and some vanilla-rich scents. The tobacco note has an interesting animalic/hay-like quality, but longevity was very poor, so I gave up on the idea. However, recently I noticed a very nice tobacco note emanating from the little plastic bottle I used, so perhaps it requires time, for whatever reason.
And then there are heavy and/or complex scents that feature a tobacco note clearly, but not strongly, such as one finds in Fumerie Turque or vintage Laipidus Pour Homme (1987). The great thing about these (when they work) is that the dynamism is often among the best of any scent I’ve worn, and in these cases the tobacco note functions to sort of swirl around the other notes, so to speak. Of course there are many scents that list tobacco as a note, and some perceive it while others think it is simply not present. Vintage Lagerfeld Cologne is a good example, because for me there is often a kind of mild tobacco background “hum” to it, but it has yet to come across clearly for me. For those of you who are a lot more familiar than I am with actual tobacco products (that one smokes especially) or would like to mention some tobacco scents you think are worthy of note, please do us a favor and tell us your thoughts by commenting.
UPDATE: I should have also mentioned clove cigarette notes, which I first encountered in Ava Luxe’s Kretek scent. I have never smelled an actual clove cigarette.