It's been a bad year for the rights of cigar smokers in America. From New York to Dallas, sweeping antismoking legislation has wiped out havens that used to permit us to settle into a pleasant setting and savor a fine cigar. But even though we knew how tough it was becoming to find a proper place to smoke, we still thought that common sense might prevail, even in California where the antismoking legislation has been in effect for years.
Recently, I attended a private party at a restaurant in California that was closed to the public for the evening. After dinner, I adjourned to a separate room by myself to relax with a delicious after-dinner cigar. Moments later, a waitress came over and told me to step outside if I wished to smoke, and said what I was doing was illegal. I noted that this was a private party. She said it didn't matter. I asked if anyone complained. She said no. So I asked her why she was harassing me. She said she could smell the smoke at the other end of the restaurant, which was three rooms away, and she didn't want to get cancer from secondhand smoke. She warned that if I didn't leave the building, she would call the police to protect her rights. I got up and went outside. I was disgusted. A friend who was already outside smoking said with a smile, "Welcome to California."
At least they haven't outlawed smoking outdoors in California. That might be a little hard to sell to the public, since the air in Los Angeles is already impossible to breathe.
But California is far from alone, and may not even be the worst today. For instance, New York City now mandates that no more than 25 percent of the seats in outdoor seating areas can be designated for smoking; i.e., in 75 percent of the outdoor dining area, it's now illegal to smoke. Can you imagine the health police coming over to a smoker and saying, "More than 25 percent of the patrons are already smoking, put your cigar out?" Or that one country club has actually interpreted a separate, and even more draconian, New York State law to mean that you can't smoke under the awning that covers an outdoor dining area? Smoking will only be permitted in the area that rests outside the perimeter of the awning.
We'd like to believe when laws exceed reasonable boundaries that governments would reconsider, and change them. But tobacco use, including cigar smoking, seems to have acquired the same status as leprosy did 100 years ago. There's no reasoning with the bureaucracies that have been brainwashed by the antismoking zealots. Until the world accepts the basic notion that one, tobacco is a legal product, and two, that adults should have the right to make their own choices, we seem destined to continue watching our rights as tax-paying citizens be eroded away.
Like we've said for 10 years, cigar smokers shouldn't be silent. Each of you must raise your voice and demand that your rights be taken into account, too. And, you should patronize the events that are trying to protect smokers' rights. Next time we're in California, we're going to find a cigar night; Arnold Schwarzenegger's at Schatzi on Main in Santa Monica the first Monday of every month, or Raul Martinez's monthly cigar dinners in the San Fernando valley are just two that we know of (check www.cigaraficionado.com for details). There must be others. Keep them alive, and protect your privileges to smoke in public.