(CNS Business): A young Caymanian entrepreneur has begun manufacturing and selling cigarettes locally using pure tobacco imported from Kentucky with no additives. Cordell Gutierrez (23), who grew up on Cayman Brac, began selling his cigarette packages in December last year under the brand name Blacktip. The cigarettes are produced in a small factory in Prospect, next to the Cayman Islands Brewery, and distributed to a number of retail outlets across Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Although producing and selling cigarettes is a controversial choice of business in an age where smokers are being strongly encouraged to give them up, Gutierrez, a non-smoker himself, told CNS Business that he is not trying to get people to pick up the habit, but for people who are already smokers, his cigarettes are less harmful because they don’t have all the additives that the large tobacco brands add to their product.
“Regular cigarettes have 600 to 900 chemicals and preservatives added to the tobacco, which are addictive themselves,” he said. Just some of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke include acetone, ammonia, arsenic, butane and formaldehyde, he noted. “People have told me that after smoking pure tobacco cigarettes for a while, they found it much easier to give up cigarettes altogether.”
Asked why he chose this particular business, he said, “I just thought it was a good idea. I looked into it, why this would be better than regular cigarettes, and saw a market for it. Cayman has its own beers and now has its own cigarettes. It just gives smokers an option to smoke less harmful cigarettes.”
The 1,200sqft Blacktip factory contains five machines to process the cigarettes plus room to package and wrap them, and is currently producing around 200 cartons a month, which Gutierrez hopes to increase as sales pick up.
Gutierrez himself works full time at CUC as an engineering technician, having gained an associate’s degree in Science and Electrical Technology with Renewable Energy from the New England Institute of Technology on Rhode Island.
He has one employee at the factory, Kyle Bang, who has worked as a technician for a cigarette packaging company in
the US, but the plan is to hire and train Caymanians for this work as the business expands. “Right now, I need someone with experience,” he said.
The dried tobacco is imported $150 lbs at a time in 5lb bags from a farm in Kentucky. Gutierrez noted that the tobacco in his cigarettes will seem looser than in the top brand names and that’s because the big tobacco companies use chemicals to make the dried tobacco sticky so that it packs in tighter. However, Blacktips actually have 33% more tobacco in them because the diameter of the filters is slightly wider than in brand names.
“The feedback is that Blacktips are a lot smoother than what people are used to. That’s the number one response,” he said.
Running his own business at just 23 is an impressive start, and Gutierrez said it was overwhelming at first. “Now it feels great, though a lot of pressure. It’s a dream — everyone wants to own their own business.”
Blacktip cigarettes, which come in regular, mild and menthol flavours, are sold at all Blackbeard’s and Big Daddy’s outlets, McRuss in Marine Drive, Mr Arthur’s on the waterfront in George Town, Lorna’s gas station in Bodden Town, and on the Brac at La Esperanza, Market Place and West End Rubis gas station. They retail for $5.50 to $6 per pack.