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People from around the world flock to the United States in search of freedom. They flee wars or repressive governments. Sometimes they are simply looking for the opportunity to get ahead in life.

There's now a new breed of American, however. These citizens look forward to visiting foreign countries to experience the joys and pleasures of lighting up a good cigar. In most foreign countries, cigar smoking is a nonissue. Even where governments are trying to tax cigarettes heavily or get people to cut down on smoking, they don't prohibit people from doing it. In virtually all the countries I've ever visited, cigar smoking is welcome in restaurants. Sure, some set aside a special smoking room for patrons to enjoy cigars with Cognac after a meal, but these patrons are accommodated. Cigar smokers are not made into lepers, forced into secretive behavior just to enjoy a smoke. In fact, in many countries, cigar smokers are sought after because they are sophisticated and affluent patrons of the better hotels and restaurants.

As Rush Limbaugh has said, some people in America feel it is a crime to have fun, and they target anyone who seems to have too much of it. If you've followed the issue of secondary, or passive smoke, you know that a mountain has been made out of a molehill in terms of restricting smoking areas because of secondhand smoke. While it may be an irritant, get this straight: it doesn't kill. But such cities as New York and Los Angeles, which are making it virtually impossible to smoke in a public place, are using the secondhand-smoke issue as a bludgeon to push through the agenda of the health fanatics.

No one has yet explained to me how having a smoking and non-smoking section in a restaurant offends non-smokers. I always thought that one of the guiding principles of America was freedom. Why do non-smokers have rights that smokers don't?

America has entered a period in its history in which freedom isn't what it used to be. Government, often manipulated by health or lifestyle fanatics, has taken on the task of trying to dictate what is good for people and what isn't. But in certain areas, regulations have exceeded the constitutional prerogative of government and violated the rights of individuals. Smoking is one such area. Government has correctly focused on the health risks of excessive smoking, but even there it goes beyond its rights when it tries to prohibit people from smoking at all.

Risk is part of living. Skiing, riding motorcycles, flying private airplanes, drinking whole milk, eating bacon, savoring butter and cream sauces or digging into a hamburger and fries are all things that have health risks. But by focusing on the negative aspects, people forget the true benefits--and potentially life-prolonging psychological advantages--of engaging in activities that give great pleasure. There is an extremely important parallel to remember. For years, the health community in America tried to tell us that any amount of alcohol was harmful. Now research shows that moderate consumption--about two glasses of wine, beer or spirits a day--may actually prolong your life and could certainly reduce your risk of heart disease. I firmly believe the relaxation that comes from smoking a cigar, when the smoke is not inhaled, will someday be proved to outweigh any of the small increases in health risk associated with smoking it.

But for now, cigar smokers will have to continue their travels overseas for peaceful and unrestricted venues in which to smoke. Someday the fanatics will learn that there are no absolutes: risks are everywhere, and if you can somehow get through the dangers of living every day, a relaxing smoke, especially after an enjoyable dinner, will make the passage all the sweeter.

Marvin R. Shanken
Editor & Publisher