At the start of 2007, it is worth taking a look at the state of cigar smoking in the United States. The past year can best be described in terms of good news/bad news.
The good news is that cigar sales are strong. Most companies are reporting solid increases, and they are bringing new products to market. When the final numbers are in, we expect to see the fourth consecutive year of growth. And consumers know that the cigars today are better than ever. Check out our Top 25 story (page 58), and you'll see what we're talking about.
The bad news, however, is almost overwhelming. In the November elections, voters in four more states passed bans that will restrict smoking in most public places. In Nevada, voters passed a law that will make it impossible to smoke in casinos (although the ban is being challenged in court). Similar wide-ranging bans passed in Ohio, Arizona and Hawaii.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Colorado passed a smoking ban last March; bar owners have sued to have the restrictions lifted. In Pennsylvania, some counties have already passed stringent antismoking regulations, but other counties have resisted adopting bans.
New Jersey's ban took effect in January last year, and it extended to nongaming areas in Atlantic City. Washington, D.C.'s law took effect November 5, and it even prohibits smoking in tobacco shops, something that most laws nationwide have allowed.
Amazingly enough, those laws sound downright reasonable in the face of some of the other regulations that have been proposed or passed around the country. Belmont, California, for instance, has proposed a smoking ban that would extend to all outdoor locations in the city, plus private cars. The only approved smoking places would be inside detached single-family homes. While the measure must be submitted to the full city council, it is expected to pass. The Belmont initiative would take the honor of being the nation's most restrictive law from Calabasas, California, which John Salley wrote about for us in 2006; that law just covered the great outdoors, not cars.
Of course, that's not all. Santa Fe, New Mexico, strengthened its existing law to include outdoor sections of restaurants, and then added a restriction prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of any doorway. Suffolk County, New York, had passed regulations in 2003 that were stricter than New York City's because they didn't allow exemptions for cigar bars. That provision had not been enforced, but after the tourists had left the East End of Long Island, following the Labor Day weekend last year, authorities began fining Suffolk County's cigar bars.
If there was any good news, it came, ironically, from California. Voters rejected a 135 percent increase in tobacco taxes, including a shelf tax that would have put most tobacconists out of business. While the referendum result was probably a victory for the antitax crowd, not the pro smokers, it nonetheless slowed the onslaught against smokers.
We've said it many times. You cannot be complacent in your home community. Stand up and make your voice heard. It may be hard to stop the tide, but you can argue for compromise, retaining the idea that with good ventilation and separate areas, smokers can be allowed to enjoy a legal product. It's not too late. But don't wait.