There’s a new plume wafting throughout downtown New York and East Los Angeles—and it doesn’t smell like weed or watermelon ice. Rather, it’s that familiar polarizing aroma that’s been a staple of nightlife, reckless abandon, and adult recreation from time immemorial, though one that hasn’t had a fresh face in a generation.

Meet Hestia, the first cigarette brand to get F.D.A. approval in more than 15 years.

Founded in 2013 by David Sley, 38, the Durham-based company toiled in relative obscurity for its first decade due to regulatory hurdles. This was a result of the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, which grants the F.D.A. the power to approve new cigarette products only after a hyper-meticulous review, or if a company can prove its wares are “substantially equivalent” to cigarettes licensed for sale prior to February 2007.

Getting into the game a little too late, Sley had to sell mini-cigars instead of traditional cigarettes through an e-commerce site until he could get his boges sanctioned. This past November, Sley finally received a license to manufacture and sell true Hestia cigarettes in four states—Texas, Florida, Mississippi, and Minnesota—after acquiring a pre-existing company that passed the F.D.A.’s qualifications.

The brand now positions itself as “an honest tobacco company,” as its Web site states, that sells “artisanal” and “craft” smokes, not unlike a bespoke American Spirit in form, function, and flavor. This is reflected in its package design, which features the slogan “Naked, Wild, Tobacco” and Matisse-inspired artwork created by the trendy, Los Angeles–based plants-and-apparel company Cactus Store.

“Most people don’t think there is any good to be had in the tobacco space,” says Sley. “I vehemently disagree with them. I’m also standing at the foot of Everest, and I’m wearing Red Wing boots instead of climbing shoes.”

Hestia founder David Sley is committed to spreading the gospel of “Little Tobacco.”

Sley isn’t trying to get more people to smoke, but rather convert the casual smoker into someone who values a premium product when they do decide to light up. “It’s like everyone’s just been drinking Bud Light their whole life, and then someone comes along with a crisp, cool, refreshing beer that doesn’t taste like diesel fuel. Imagine that, but for tobacco,” he explains. Sley says his ideal customer is “someone who actually gives a shit about what they put in their body. You can couch that as anachronistic, quixotic, or foolhardy as you see fit in regards to a tobacco product, but that’s the truth, and so why run from the truth?”

The company aims for its cigarettes, which come in Hesper Form (bolds) and Stone Form (lights), to be distributed nationally before the end of 2023. To do this, Hestia needs to partner with a manufacturer that has a license to produce cigarettes in all 50 states, as well as a distributor who will agree to carry and push the product in all 50 states. Until then, Hestia is embracing marketing tactics that are diametrically opposed to the Don Draper–style cigarette advertising of yesteryear.

“Most people don’t think there is any good to be had in the tobacco space. I vehemently disagree with them.”

This means Sley is drumming up word-of-mouth hype the only way a one-man indie cigarette operation with a limited budget, endless red tape to navigate, and competition from billion-dollar corporations can in order to have its phoenix moment: sending countless influencers and taste-makers in New York and Los Angeles cartons of cigarettes in exchange for spreading the gospel of “Little Tobacco.”

Sley will tell you that his approach to guerrilla marketing is “incredibly intentional” and that he actively tries to “keep my finger on the pulse” because he has no other avenue for promoting the cigs. “I cannot be a named sponsor of any sort of cultural or sporting event. Instagram won’t let me pay to advertise and neither will any social-media platform, so getting Hestia into the hands of those who have the biggest megaphone and platform is incredibly helpful,” Sley says.

Hestia’s influencer strategy is by no means new. Just look at how the direct-to-consumer companies, such as underwear brand Parade or the non-alcoholic-beverage purveyor Ghia, are tackling digital marketing. But to apply those methods to a vice many consider evil is equal parts inspired, unhinged, and Sisyphean.

Sley regularly gives his cigarettes to hosts of scene-y parties so they then share them at their events or tag the brand in Instagram photos. He mails potential evangelizers a press kit that comes with a fact sheet about the company’s cultivation practices, one pack of lights, one pack of fulls, and a Hestia-branded Zippo, matchbook, pin, sticker, and guitar pick. Sometimes he’ll just ship whole cartons without the accoutrements.

Musician Julia Cumming smokes a Hestia cigarette at a New York Fashion Week party in February.

During New York Fashion Week this past winter, kids in tight leather jackets were smoking Hestias outside Grotta, a restaurant in Little Italy, at a party organized by the popular newsletter Perfectly Imperfect. The cigs were also burning at Dirty Magazine’s New Year’s Day party at the Wall Street Bath & Spa; Anna Delvey’s late-January house-arrest birthday party; a Celine party at the Wiltern, in Los Angeles; and, throughout February, at multiple events at Baby’s All Right, a music venue in Williamsburg. Some of the buzzier parties at South by Southwest, in March, had them, too.

Sley got his smokes into the hands of @cigfluencers (17K followers), an Instagram account that celebrates famous people who love to light up, and has created his own meme account, @hestiacellectuals (76 followers), on top of the main @hestiatobacco page (28K followers). There, he posts shots of cool people smoking Hestias, such as musicians Julia Cumming and Slayloverboy and skater Oscar Meza. He also posts the occasional Photoshopped image of his ideal consumers holding packs, such as Pete Davidson and Anya Taylor-Joy.

The self-described “Millennial Marlboro Man” has an eye for influencers because, in his 20s, he lived in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles while working at a hedge fund and, later, a grain-and-commodities trading company. The latter position led him on business trips to Georgia, where he became connected with a variety of tobacco growers.

Hestia positions itself as “an honest tobacco company” that sells “artisanal” and “craft” smokes.

By the time Sley launched Hestia, self-funding it with more than $2 million, he and his wife—whom he met over a shared cigarette outside a bar—had moved to Durham to be close to the “eighth-generation naturalist farmers” who grow his product. But it’s clear Sley misses big-city life. He keeps a close tab on trendsetters in art and culture and on social media, a habit that also enables him to target more people who can help champion his cigarettes.

As Jason Stewart, a Hestia smoker and co-host of the popular podcast How Long Gone, explained, “People want to try a new thing that’s branded much differently than everything else, like Japanese strawberries or Teslas.” He continued, “Consumers have benefited from the artisanal boom of every product type except for cigarettes. I wonder why? Just kidding; it’s because Big Tobacco will buy you out or start killing your pets.”

Hestia’s novelty factor helps it stand out while it’s new, but it remains to be seen if a Little Tobacco brand catering to bi-coastal scene-sters can compete against international behemoths, such as Altria and R. J. Reynolds, especially at a time when smoking is in perpetual decline and Gen Z favors e-cigarettes and vapes.

Still, what type of nicotine-inclined conspicuous consumer wouldn’t want to be an early adopter of a cigarette that isn’t even available to legally buy in most major cities?

“It’s the whole Field of Dreams thing, man,” says Sley. “It’s just a matter of getting the product to them and making them aware of it. Because once people find out about Hestia, they usually become happy customers and brand advocates.”

His pipe-dream ambassador is Gwyneth Paltrow. “She talks about having her single competitor-brand cigarette a week,” explains Sley. “She’s very devoted to her health and cares about all things that go into her body, so I think it’s only natural that she should give Hestia a try.”

Even if the Goop overlord doesn’t co-sign the cigarettes, there might be room for classic brands such as Marlboros and indie Hestias to coexist in the American market. “Everyone loves a David vs. Goliath story, but, hopefully, both Big and Little Tobacco will be able to thrive on their own,” says Stewart. “There’s enough money there to spread around.”

Zach Sokol is a writer, editor, and photographer whose work has appeared in Vice, High Times, Playboy, Penthouse, i-D, Sex Magazine, Rolling Stone, and more