I read the editors' note in the August 2003 issue of Cigar Aficionado with sad amusement, especially given the location of the smokers' predicament. But antismoking legislation appears to be increasing with some growing momentum throughout the country.
I have, for example, followed the antismoking ban debate in my home state of Indiana with some (but I will admit not terribly overriding) interest. Antitobacco advertisements have increased, some establishments have created smoke-free areas, and other such surface changes have become more and more visible.
No doubt exists that smoking can have detrimental health effects, and secondhand smoke can possess some irritating side effects, all of which can cause some alarm among those in the health community—not the least of which are simply financial concerns. That said, staying out in the sun too long, eating fatty foods, riding on a motorcycle or driving a car, skydiving, boxing and so many other recreational activities can also have detrimental health effects on the participant as well as on others. I cannot help but wonder that, if matters of tobacco did not come with a price tag, there would be such fervent interest among so many diverse parties.
Granting all that, however, government ordinances regulating behavior typically come across as particularly heavy-handed. Indianapolis (Marion County) may force us to confront an either/or proposition that has faced California, New York and other areas: either smoking should be banned altogether or not at all, as if this remains the only solution available. I find the debate, as constructed, particularly bothersome, but I could not put my finger on why.
Then it struck me: the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the freedom of religion, speech, the press, and our right to petition and assemble. "Congress shall make no law respectingÖthe right of the people peaceably to assemble." I do not practice law, but it seems to me that an ordinance forcing a citywide, countywide or statewide smoking ban clearly and forcibly reaches into private property. It identifies and stigmatizes a class of people exercising their inherent right to express themselves freely with a legal recreational substance by forbidding them the right of simply assembling in public as well as on private property.
In other words, strip away all the static about health and cost, and we realize that, before the smoking ban, nonsmokers have the right to assemble; smokers have the right to assemble. After such a ban, nonsmokers can assemble but smokers are stripped of their right to assemble anywhere in public to express themselves in recreation and fellowship. Moreover, an outright ban would have some questionable consequences: if I ran a business out of my residence, for example, would I then be banned from smoking in my home?
That approach strikes me in itself as an unmitigated injustice. Perhaps some clever civil libertarian should explore this further. I refuse simply to accept that in twenty-first-century America, no middle ground exists.
I was lucky enough several years ago while on a summer adventure (as I like to call it) in Costa Rica to discover the world of cigars. Picture it, a young man from small-town Ohio on the busy streets of San JosÈ with a group of friends. I was on my own for the first time away from home. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a cigar shop. I turned to my group and said, "Hey guys, let's check this out." We walked into this small corner shop filled with nothing but pure cigars, and we all took a collective, deep breath. The smell alone had me hooked right from the start. I can't remember now how many I personally bought, but I can tell you everyone in the group was buying. We retired to our hotel and made our way poolside. We wanted three things: girls, drinks and cigars. I remember that first Cohiba. It was an instant love affair. From that time till now, I have been completely drawn to cigars and the lifestyle around them. I am older now, and I have to tell you, most people my age have no idea how to savor the fine things in life. My idea of a great evening is lounging on my back patio, the sounds of hot jazz in the background with good friends. Who can live without billows of cigar smoke?
No doubt, young and beautiful female flesh sells magazines (June issue), and if you want to pull a Sports Illustrated, I can't stop you. I can, however, tell you what I think, especially since this concerns Cuban flesh.
The article on Cuba's fledgling modeling industry is as predictable as it is depressing. A first-world wheeler-dealer, Canadian Dean Bornstein profits from the "really appreciative" third-world girls, with the obvious and indispensable cooperation of the ruling dictatorship, which profits as well. Naturally, Bornstein declines to reveal the percentage of the government's cut, which you can bet is not the same as income tax in a democracy. If nothing else, it's "taxation" without representation, since average Cubans have no say in government policy.
The article's author, James Suckling, trumpets the entry of Cuban models into the international scene as "evidence that Cuba is opening up to the world." That is, of course, as long as the world pays in hard currency and doesn't challenge the dictatorship's chronic and pervasive human rights violations. Curiously, the world's nearly universal condemnation of recent long prison sentences for dozens of peaceful dissidents, as well as the execution of three young black men for trying to escape the island "paradise," has met with no opening of any kind by the Stalinist Cuban regime.
Adding insult to injury, your writer waxes rhapsodic over a gala dinner and fashion show that was part of the Cigar Festival in Havana. He admits the privileged audience was a "mostly European crowd." Imagine that. He also quotes an American present at the posh affair, who gushed, "It was as if we were not in Cuba." The fact is neither he nor the Europeans were, certainly not in the real Cuba, which is the lot of the common people who couldn't get anywhere near that gala.
Sometimes, I tire of feeling disgust for those who can't or won't admit the truth and instead try to whitewash it—there are so many of them. It's truly frustrating to deal with people who refuse to see because they have vested interests in their blindness. At least, thank God, I'm free to cry out in
Laura Gómez Quevedo
Editor's note: Your response is as predictable as you say our article is. For more than 40 years, all those who think like you have tried to isolate Cuba and Fidel Castro. It's time to realize the world is different, and your old, predictable way of thinking hasn't produced change in Cuba, and it never will. What has a chance of working is to force open Cuba's doors; those beautiful Cuban models are one small sign of that happening. When the doors are open, and Americans flood the island, change will come.