Dictionaries define a tobacconist as a merchant that sells tobacco products and accessories. The term, which originated in Great Britain, has come to mean slightly more than this basic definition, however. In colloquial English, a tobacconist is more than just a tobacco seller. He or she is a merchant that specializes in the field of tobacco products and is an expert in tobacco sales, manufacture, and marketing, as well as in the accessories and products associated with tobacco and its use.
Many tobacconists own their own shops, a tradition again originating in Great Britain soon after tobacco was introduced to Europeans in the 15th and 16th centuries. Tobacco shops historically have been, and today still are, somewhat of a niche business, meaning that a typical tobacconist must be proficient in the skills required of any small retailer, including inventory and accounts management and other basics of day to day business operations. Certification as a professional tobacconist is available from an organization known as Tobacconist's University, which is sponsored by a major cigar manufacturer.
The true expertise of a tobacconist that sets them apart from a shop that simply sells cigarettes is their comprehensive knowledge of all brands and types of tobacco products. A skilled tobacconist will have a command of the knowledge of tobacco that is similar to that of a master sommelier, or wine steward, with wine. Tobacco products, particularly fine cigars and pipe tobaccos, some in a wide number of varieties, and their enjoyment and consumption is pursued by many beyond those who smoke cigarettes simply for the nicotine they contain.
Cigars, for example, are an important part of any tobacconist's inventory. Cigars exhibit a wide range of behaviors when smoked and come in a number of flavors and aromas. Fine cigars can cost hundreds of dollars apiece, and the opinions and knowledge of a skilled tobacconist, who is able to assess and recall the relative merits of various tobacco products can help customers to make informed purchases.
A typical tobacconist shop sells all manner of tobacco products and accessories, not just cigars. Most of course sell cigarettes, but some choose not to carry mass market cigarette brands or even cigarettes at all, preferring to concentrate on finer products such as cigars, pipe tobaccos, and snuff. Many sell things like personal humidors for cigars, pipes, high quality lighters, cigar cutters and other such accessories. Pipes for smoking tobacco are often regarded as collectible, especially pipes hand carved from meerschaum, a type of hardened clay.
Another feature of a typical tobacconist's shop that sets it apart from an ordinary tobacco retailer, is a walk in humidor. This is a room sized, sealed enclosure that is climate controlled for temperature and humidity to keep cigars and tobacco products at their optimum condition.