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No Place Left

By Gordon Mott , Marvin R. Shanken | From "24", Jan/Feb 2006

New York—heavy smoking restrictions. Florida—heavy restrictions. California—heavy restrictions. In Massachusetts, it is almost impossible to smoke outside your home. In December, Chicago passed extensive no-smoking regulations, and Washington, D.C., is headed that way, too. It's almost reached the point where cigar smokers should buy a big parcel of land in Alaska, or maybe Mexico, and declare it a smoking zone forever. It's certainly reached the point where there are fewer and fewer places that a cigar lover can enjoy his passion in peace.

We are still puzzled by the rationale, partly because the bans require blind acceptance of the flawed science that secondhand smoke is as bad as smoking. The other rationales for banning smoking—to protect youth and to protect adults from themselves—don't really work for cigar smokers. The vast majority of cigar smokers are well-educated adults who choose to partake in a pastime that gives them pleasure, and they do it in moderation, i.e., cigar smokers light up no more than one per day. So cigar smokers are swept up in the hysteria of the antitobacco police who think they can tell everyone how to lead their lives and what choices they should be making for themselves.

One fact that leaves us bemused is that in the midst of more and more regulations against smoking in public places, cigar sales continue to go up. In 2005, the number of imports—the best barometer of cigar sales in America—rose about 9 percent through September, a pace that would result in more than 300 million cigars for the year. In 2004, 282 million cigars were imported, an increase of 9.5 percent over 2003.

That's hard evidence that cigar smokers are not going to be stopped by a few outrageous laws. Of course, cigar smokers have always been discriminated against, even when most restaurants had smoking sections for cigarette users. In the 1990s, those brief glory days when a number of restaurants and bars not only allowed cigar smoking but set up special rooms in some instances, cigar smokers enjoyed one of the few periods in recent history when they didn't have to get creative about where to smoke. Those days were great. It was also a reminder of how enjoyable it can be to end a fine gourmet meal in a restaurant with a fine hand-rolled cigar.

Those days are gone, however, in many major American cities, and even in some entire states. At least in California and Florida you can still smoke at many outdoor tables in public places. But in most other cities and states with smoking restrictions, it has become difficult to smoke outdoors in any kind of public setting. In Washington state, for instance, smokers can't even light up within 25 feet of a doorway. We still don't understand why a restaurant can't declare itself a smoking establishment; the workers will be advised in advance, and then nonsmokers don't have to patronize that place. Makes sense, doesn't it?

We keep waiting for some degree of sanity to return to the whole debate over smoking. We know, and most public officials know, that there are workable compromises, either setting aside smoking areas, or mandating high-powered ventilation systems, or both, in any public venue like a bar or restaurant that wants to allow smoking. In place of compromise, the antismoking lobby has been working to create what amounts to backdoor prohibition, which is its ultimate goal—the outlawing of all tobacco products. By creating restrictions that make it virtually impossible to enjoy tobacco, they think smokers will finally give up.

That's not working with cigar smokers. We keep finding ways to enjoy one of the greatest pleasures known to man, a hand-rolled cigar. And no one will ever stop us. Even if we have to buy that piece of land in Mexico.