Many of you enjoyed the Super Bowl this year surrounded by friends and fans, and if you were in your own home or at a friend's, maybe even with a cigar.
But what about the thousands of people who wanted to go out to a sports bar or a restaurant to have a big party with lots of friends? In the states of Florida, California, Massachusetts and New York, they were out of luck. Those states have banned smoking in almost all indoor public places, and that includes bars and restaurants.
These new restrictions are examples of the assaults that have been made on cigar smokers' rights in the last 10 years. Ever since it became popular again to enjoy the pleasures of a hand-rolled cigar, the anti-tobacco fanatics have tried to find every way possible to lump cigars together with cigarettes, and eliminate all chances to smoke in public.
But the worst isn't over yet. More states and more and more cities are imposing draconian laws that prohibit smoking. In major cities today, you can spy packs of smokers in front of buildings, braving the cold and the rain to have a cigarette. We've seen some lawbreakers hang their heads out of windows so they can light up without smoking up the room. It's crazy.
But that's not the only area where things are crazy. Congress had been mulling over a law to prohibit the U.S. Postal Service from shipping all tobacco products by mail. You wouldn't have been able to shop by catalog, order your cigars by phone or over the Internet, and be able to count on an inexpensive, efficient way to get the cigars to your house. You would have been forced to use more expensive private mail services like UPS or FedEx, or to drive miles to the nearest tobacconist. But it gets even crazier. The law was designed to halt the shipping of counterfeit cigarettes across state lines. At the last minute, someone changed the wording in the Senate version from just cigarettes to include "all tobacco products," and wham, just like that, cigars were in the crosshairs again. So, the nearly 50 percent of smokers who have their cigars shipped to them would have had to pay more for them.
What's wrong with this country?
It just doesn't make sense. Our rights as cigar smokers are being trampled on again and again. There doesn't seem to be any way to inject some sanity back into the debate. The interests of cigar smokers are simply ignored, because no politicians believe that cigar smokers can wage an effective campaign against them.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg went the other way, exhibiting an outrageous degree of hypocrisy. At a private gathering of Wall Street big shots, Mayor Bloomberg did nothing when cigars were passed out and lit. The man in the street may be prohibited from smoking in a public place, but Mayor Bloomberg condoned his buddies' law-breaking activity. That from a man who calls his anti-smoking legislation one of the crowning achievements of his administration.
But don't give up. In New York State, an exemption is now included in the state antismoking law. Counties have been given the option of granting those exemptions. One bar owner in upstate New York regained his right to allow smoking after he showed that his business fell by more than 30 percent in the wake of the smoking ban. Some counties, such as New York City's, haven't yet allowed the exemption to be used. But if enough noise is made, the local politicians will have to yield.