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My Turn

Victimized cigar smokers write us all the time. Their stories are incredible. Nearby diners throwing water on them. Passersby shouting profanities. I've suffered my share of indignities, too, but I usually brush them off. In many cases I've even complied with a vigorous complaint by putting out my cigar. That was until I met Sam Crocket. Now it's my turn.

Sam, you see, is the assistant dining-room manager at the Atrium restaurant at the Doral Arrowwood Resort in Rye Brook, New York, a comfortable conference center used by corporations for special meetings. I was there with the editorial staff of one of my other publications, reviewing our progress, planning calendars and relaxing a bit. At dinner our first night, I walked into the dining room smoking a small Partagas.

After a few minutes, Crocket approached our table and asked me to extinguish my cigar. I did. By the end of our meal, however, there were only two other occupied tables: one nearby and one on the far side of the room.

I absentmindedly lit up again. Within seconds, Crocket was at our table. "Sir, I asked you to put that out," he said. I replied, "I'd be glad to put it out as soon as someone complains." Crocket glared. "I'm complaining," he said, and walked away. I put down my cigar with every intent of just letting it go out. Annoyed at having to do that, I set out for the dessert bar. As I passed the closest table, I asked the other diners whether they minded my cigar. They replied that they hadn't even noticed I was smoking and said it was no problem. In my absence, however, Crocket had walked over and smashed my cigar into the ashtray, rendering it unsmokable. When I returned to the table, I went ballistic.

Take my cigar out of the room. Take the ashtray with the cigar in it out of the room. Do anything but destroy my personal property. Did I cross the line? Maybe. Maybe I should have just given up and not relighted the cigar. I'll concede that. But on the other hand, no patrons were complaining, no one close by even knew the cigar was lighted, and it was a big room. There is absolutely no justification for Crocket's action.

I've argued for tolerance, for designated smoking areas and for cigar smokers showing restraint in close or tight quarters. But the attacks just get worse. And, also, out of hand.

Is it too late to do anything? It may be, especially in cities and towns that prohibit all smoking. But there are still a few things we can do. Patronize only restaurants that allow you to smoke cigars. If a restaurant allows cigarettes but not cigars, make an issue out of the hypocritical ban on cigar smoking. Fight city hall, the city council or your state legislature if officials begin to succumb to the bad science and hysteria of antismoking fanatics about secondhand smoke. And make your position known to your congressional representatives or senators.

Don't let the Sam Crockets of the world ruin our day.