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Smoking in Peace

David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

(continued from page 1)

I'm no longer surprised.

In the course of two months of interviews for this article, I heard the same story over and over and over again, albeit with subtle variations. I also heard a number of far-from-subtle accounts of what happens when a cigar suddenly appears in what one would normally consider a civilized setting.

An entrepreneur in Los Angeles told me he saw one man punch a cigar smoker in the face when the smoker didn't put his cigar out quickly enough after a complaint. A tobacconist in New York told me that several of his customers had had their cigars literally snatched from their lips or their fingers by irate people who happened to be standing or sitting nearby.

Bill Johnson, general manager of Anthony's Restaurant in Houston, told me that when he was working at another restaurant a few years ago, one of his best customers--"an elderly gentleman, the sweetest guy in the world"--was smoking a cigar after dinner late one night when a woman walked over from another table, picked up the glass of water on his table and poured it over his head.

"She told him, 'I thought I'd do something to ruin your night like you ruined mine,"' Johnson recalled.

"The poor guy said that if she'd asked him, he would have been glad to put it out, but she didn't ask him or anyone else; she just dumped the water on him. He said it was the last time he'd ever smoke a cigar in any restaurant."

Many cigar smokers have made similar decisions in recent years as the anti-smoking and, especially, the anti-cigar hysteria has reached frenzied proportions. It's just not worth the hassle, they've decided. Even if no one actually objects to your cigar, you're so worried someone will object that you can't sit back and enjoy the cigar. That undermines one of the essential pleasures of smoking a cigar; as H.L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, said--I have his picture and these words framed in my bathroom--"I smoke cigars when I'm relaxed and happy."

It's difficult to be either relaxed or happy when so many people treat cigar smoking as if it ranked somewhere between child molestation and gang rape on the scale of antisocial activities.

"I smoke six or seven cigars a day," says Arthur Zaretsky, proprietor of the Famous Smoke Shop in New York. "I used to have a cigar in my mouth when I left my apartment in the morning and when I left my shop in the evening. But people even complain about cigars on the street now, and I don't want to have uncomfortable situations with people saying nasty things to me and me having to say things back to them, so now the only place I smoke is in my shop and in my apartment and in a social situation if I know everyone there, and I know in advance that no one will object. Otherwise, I just leave my cigars home."

In Europe, of course, a cigar is still considered a legitimate postprandial pleasure--one of the "three C's" (along with coffee and Cognac). Robert Levin of Holt's Cigar Co. in Philadelphia told me recently about the satisfaction one of his customers took on his last trip to Paris when he lit up his cigar after dinner, and an American at the next table started to give him what he calls "the look" (which is almost as obnoxious as "the cough").


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