Four years ago, cigar smokers were almost certain to get hassled in public places by anti-smoking fanatics. Things have changed somewhat.
You may remember a column I wrote in 1994 about a restaurant manager at Doral Arrowwood executive center in Westchester County, New York, who was belligerent to me and my associates while dining there. Even though the restaurant was empty, he insisted I put out my cigar, which I refused to do unless there was a complaint. There wasn't. When I left my table to go to the dessert buffet, he had the audacity to put out and destroy my cigar. My column was followed by a number of phone calls and letters from Cigar Aficionado readers who canceled business meetings there to show support.
My how the tide has turned. I recently received a letter from the Doral Arrowwood, telling me about a new room at the resort called--are you ready?--the Cigar Parlor. It is open to people who attend business meetings at the resort.
Another incident occurred at the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1994. Outside around the auction tent, I was accosted by a woman who rudely demanded that I put out my cigar. Being outdoors in an open field, I correctly refused. I remember hearing murmurs from some others complaining not only about my smoking, but the cigar smokingof other guests as well.
But this past June, I attended this great annual wine event and was pleased to find the auction had actually introduced a cigar store tent, which I am told sold thousands of dollars worth of cigars (for charity). On Friday and Saturday night as I walked around, I saw hundreds and hundreds of guests with huge smiles on their faces, enjoying cigars that they brought with them or purchased there. No doubt there were some guests who might have been annoyed, but likewise there were a multitude of people who had a great evening because they could light up under the stars.
However, things are far from perfect. In this issue, there's a letter from David Kennedy of Austin, Texas, who was verbally attacked in a restaurant. The attacker actually wanted to have a fistfight. Fortunately, the manager of the restaurant threw out the abusive person, and gave Mr. Kennedy and his party a free round of drinks. Defending the rights of a cigar smoker is a real sign of progress.
The warning signs are also there that now is not the time to become complacent. The New York Times health columnist Jane Brody fired a broadside at cigar smoking in a column on May 29. The column was filled with outdated information, and repeated verbatim the standard rhetoric of the anti-tobacco zealots. As author David Shaw noted in his recently published book, The Pleasure Police, Brody has been incessant in warning people about everything under the sun, including the sun: "There does not seem to be any substance, any season, any human activity that does not call forth from Ms. Brody's mind and word processor some cautionary note," Mr. Shaw wrote. Because of the power and the readership of The New York Times, she must be challenged when her writings ignore science and fact. I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out the weaknesses in her argument, and emphasizing that she totally ignored the basic reality of the vast majority of cigar smokers--that they smoke in moderation and they don't inhale. It's an important point of the debate that must be brought out. Ms. Brody did not choose to include it in her story, nor did the The New York Times publish my letter.
Although there are old-time cigar smokers who are finding it more and more difficult to purchase their favorite smokes because of the enormous growth in the premium cigar market, it is important that we all understand and appreciate that this much larger population of cigar smokers will only help reinforce our cause. The voice of smokers' rights gets louder as our community of cigar aficionados expands.
Marvin R. Shanken
Editor & Publisher