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Smoking in Peace

By David Shaw | From Premier Issue, Autumn 92

There I was, sitting in my season's seats, high above and behind home plate at Dodgers Stadium, two hot dogs and a Coke already under my belt, game-time still almost 40 minutes away and several empty seats around me on all sides. It seemed the ideal time to smoke a cigar. I leaned back, a smile on my lips and a Davidoff in my hand.

Within nanoseconds, I heard a loud, ugly snarl from what seemed like 20 or 25 feet away, to my left and many rows further back:

"Put that smelly thing out."

I turned in the direction of the voice. It belonged to a woman who looked to be in her mid-30s, although her face was reddened and twisted in a paroxysm of such rage that it was difficult at first to be absolutely certain of anything--her age, her gender, even her species.

"I said put that goddamn thing out. It stinks to high heaven," the leather-lunged charmer repeated when she saw me peering, perplexed, in her direction.

I held the cigar aloft so she could see it clearly.

"I haven't lit it yet," I said, as reasonably as I could. "You can't possibly smell it. Besides, it's a good cigar, and good cigars don't stink."

"I can smell it all right," she shouted back, "and I can smell you, too. You both stink."

I was convinced that she couldn't smell anything--except perhaps her own bile (it was a warm evening), but as much as I usually enjoy the dialectic, I make it a policy never to argue with fanatics on three subjects--religion, politics and cigars. I put my cigar back in its wooden case.

When I told this story to various cigar smoking friends over the next few weeks, they all laughed. But they were laughing at me, not at what I considered to be the most recent proof of the axiom that to be a Dodgers fan, you have to have a screw loose some place. To a man, they all said they'd had virtually identical experiences in various locales--in restaurants, in their offices, at friends' houses, even in their own homes. They'd pull out a cigar, and before they could light it, someone would begin yelping that it smelled foul and that they should extinguish it instantly, under penalty of death. They couldn't believe I was so surprised by the daffy Dodgers' reaction.

I'm no longer surprised.

In the course of two months of interviews for this article, I heard the same story over and over and over again, albeit with subtle variations. I also heard a number of far-from-subtle accounts of what happens when a cigar suddenly appears in what one would normally consider a civilized setting.

An entrepreneur in Los Angeles told me he saw one man punch a cigar smoker in the face when the smoker didn't put his cigar out quickly enough after a complaint. A tobacconist in New York told me that several of his customers had had their cigars literally snatched from their lips or their fingers by irate people who happened to be standing or sitting nearby.

Bill Johnson, general manager of Anthony's Restaurant in Houston, told me that when he was working at another restaurant a few years ago, one of his best customers--"an elderly gentleman, the sweetest guy in the world"--was smoking a cigar after dinner late one night when a woman walked over from another table, picked up the glass of water on his table and poured it over his head.

"She told him, 'I thought I'd do something to ruin your night like you ruined mine,"' Johnson recalled.

"The poor guy said that if she'd asked him, he would have been glad to put it out, but she didn't ask him or anyone else; she just dumped the water on him. He said it was the last time he'd ever smoke a cigar in any restaurant."

Many cigar smokers have made similar decisions in recent years as the anti-smoking and, especially, the anti-cigar hysteria has reached frenzied proportions. It's just not worth the hassle, they've decided. Even if no one actually objects to your cigar, you're so worried someone will object that you can't sit back and enjoy the cigar. That undermines one of the essential pleasures of smoking a cigar; as H.L. Mencken, the sage of Baltimore, said--I have his picture and these words framed in my bathroom--"I smoke cigars when I'm relaxed and happy."

It's difficult to be either relaxed or happy when so many people treat cigar smoking as if it ranked somewhere between child molestation and gang rape on the scale of antisocial activities.

"I smoke six or seven cigars a day," says Arthur Zaretsky, proprietor of the Famous Smoke Shop in New York. "I used to have a cigar in my mouth when I left my apartment in the morning and when I left my shop in the evening. But people even complain about cigars on the street now, and I don't want to have uncomfortable situations with people saying nasty things to me and me having to say things back to them, so now the only place I smoke is in my shop and in my apartment and in a social situation if I know everyone there, and I know in advance that no one will object. Otherwise, I just leave my cigars home."

In Europe, of course, a cigar is still considered a legitimate postprandial pleasure--one of the "three C's" (along with coffee and Cognac). Robert Levin of Holt's Cigar Co. in Philadelphia told me recently about the satisfaction one of his customers took on his last trip to Paris when he lit up his cigar after dinner, and an American at the next table started to give him what he calls "the look" (which is almost as obnoxious as "the cough").

"Madam," he said, "don't even think it. This is Paris."

But Los Angeles and New York and Philadelphia and Boston are not, alas, Paris, and Zaretsky's experience is all too typical.

Although every cigar smoker has his own horror story to tell, the true measure of the anti-cigar mood in the country today is best measured not by Ronald Reagan's favorite yardstick--personal anecdotes--but by the two official acts that the United States seems to engage in with particular zeal--imposing taxes and passing laws. Not only is the federal excise tax on cigars going up--to 12.75% of the manufacturer's price--as of January 1, 1993, according to the Cigar Association of America, but in recent years, more states than you could shake a corona at have also begun imposing special taxes on cigars. The last count by the Cigar Association showed 35 states with cigar taxes; only seven states had such laws before 1980. I used to think the 33% tax on rental cars in France was confiscatory, but Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Minnesota have cigar taxes of 35% of the wholesale price; Hawaii's cigar tax is 40%; Washington's is a staggering 64.9%. Increasingly, some cities and counties also tax cigars; in Alabama alone, 35 cities and counties have such taxes, the Cigar Association says.

Virtually every state in the union now has one kind of anti-smoking ordinance or another as well, and an increasing number of cities have passed or are considering similar laws. I understand the impulse behind both the laws and the taxes, of course: The U.S. Surgeon General says smoking is unhealthy, and many people also find smoke unpleasant. There is no doubt that cigarette smoking is unhealthy. I've never smoked one.

Cigars? Well, about a dozen years ago, my wife suggested I start smoking a cigar after dinner. "It will give you something to do with your hands so you don't sit there drumming your fingers impatiently while I'm sipping my espresso," she said.

I called my doctor immediately for advice. (We were on vacation in Switzerland at the time; he was in Los Angeles.) I asked him what he thought of my wife's idea. He assured me that one cigar a day would pose no threat to my health, so I gallantly acquiesced to my wife's request. I've been smoking one cigar a night, four to six nights a week, ever since. Most cigar smokers I know these days also smoke in moderation--from three or four a week to one or two a day--and I have yet to see a study that says moderate cigar smoking poses a significant health hazard.

What's the difference between cigars and cigarettes? Among other things, most cigar smokers don't inhale--and there really is no such animal as a "moderate" cigarette smoker. Cigarettes are addictive, so people who smoke them almost invariably smoke a lot of them. Studies have convinced me that when you have a lot of people smoking a lot of cigarettes in public, you're going to have a lot of non-smokers whose lungs get poisoned too. And you're also going to have a lot of non-smokers who are annoyed by passive smoke for reasons other than health--because they're allergic to smoke or because they just don't like the way it smells or looks. Such people, in my view, have every right to be protected from both health risks and aesthetic annoyance.

But in restaurants, I favor the traditional American art of compromise a smoking section and a nonsmoking section--thus protecting both the rights and health of the non-smoker and the rights and pleasure of the smoker. Equally important, I would argue that within the smoking section, cigars as well as cigarettes should be allowed. So far as I know, only a few places (commercial airliners, for example) specifically prohibit cigars (and pipes) by law, but many, many places--including the vast majority of restaurants--prohibit cigars (and pipes) as a matter of policy, even though they permit cigarettes.

Some restaurateurs say the difference is that cigar smoke is stronger and travels further.

"We serve a lot of fine wines, and cigar smoke can affect older Bordeaux," says Herb Vegara, maître d' at the Everest Room in Chicago. "But people are open-minded here; you can go smoke a cigar in one of the bathrooms."

Not me, Herb.

I will never understand why anyone who smokes cigarettes throughout his, her or my dinner is then allowed to prevent me from smoking a cigar after we're all through with dinner. Sure, cheap cigars smell vile. And cigar smoke, even from a good cigar, can be dense and pungent. But surely one cigar, after everyone's through eating, is not as offensive as a half-dozen (or more) cigarettes while everyone is still eating. I think anyone who smokes cigarettes in a restaurant and then has the audacity to complain about a cigar should be punished by having to listen every night to a one-hour speech of George Bush trying to master English as a second language.

Fortunately, my experience at Dodgers Stadium notwithstanding, I haven't had as much trouble as most cigar smokers with such irrational complaints--or, for that matter, with complaints of any sort about my cigars. Unless my wife is sick or suffering from an allergy that clogs her sinuses, she doesn't object to my cigars in the house, for example, and I have only one close friend who has made clear that she doesn't want me to smoke in her house. (My sister won't let me smoke in her house either, but she lives more than 1,200 miles away so I don't see her often enough for that to be a serious problem--although I do vividly remember the first time I asked if I could light up, and she told me to smoke outside ... in Denver ... in winter ... when the temperature, as I recall, was about 16 degrees.)

Friendships and common sense have also helped make it easier for me than for many others to smoke in restaurants. Dining out is my hobby--some would say my obsession--so I've come to know a number of chefs and restaurateurs fairly well over the years; even the most brazen cigar haters often find it difficult to complain to you or to sic a waiter or maître d' on you when they've seen the chef or the owner stop by your table a half-dozen times to chat and ask what you think of dinner--or when the chef himself is sitting at your table, smoking a cigar with you, as chef Michel Richard often does with me at Citrus in Los Angeles. In fact, many restaurants that officially prohibit cigars will be flexible with good customers--or with any customer if it's late and the dining room is almost empty.

When I want to smoke a cigar in a restaurant, I try to be considerate. I don't smoke in small, crowded, poorly ventilated restaurants or in delis, pizza parlors, hamburger joints or other places not designed for lingering. I eat on the late side--8 or 8:30 p.m.--so that by the time I'm through eating and ready to smoke, virtually everyone else will also be through eating (and most will be on their way home). If anyone nearby looks as if he or she might object to my cigar--and such stern-faced, tight-lipped, beady-eyed folks are depressingly easy to spot--I ask if they mind. If anyone at an adjacent table is still eating when I'm through--or if the adjacent table is jammed up against mine, whether its occupants are still eating or not--I also ask if there's any objection to my cigar.

I've stopped smoking cigars at Dodgers Stadium because of all the complaints--complaints I just don't understand in an outdoor setting, where the smoke disperses so easily--but in restaurants and elsewhere, relatively few people have objected to my cigar. Even people who have objected have generally done so politely.

When a group of women sweetly asked a friend and me not to smoke after lunch in an Italian restaurant not long ago, we took our cigars into the bar--for which they graciously thanked us; on their way out, they thanked us again. On another occasion, a man responded to my cigar question by saying, "We'd appreciate it if you'd wait until we finish our dessert." Ten minutes later--seconds after wiping the last crumbs of chocolate cake from his lips--the man leaned over and said, "We're through now. Thank you for asking--and for waiting. You can smoke now."

As I said, judging by my conversations and interviews with other cigar smokers, I've been lucky. Many people who object to cigars do so as boorishly as that woman at Dodgers Stadium. Indeed, virtually every restaurateur I interviewed for this story told me that people who complain about cigars are almost invariably far more adamant--and far ruder--than cigar smokers themselves.

Carl Doumani, proprietor of Stag's Leap Winery, recalls a night a few years ago when he lit up on the terrace of a restaurant in Napa Valley only to have the waitress tell him another diner objected. Rather than putting out his cigar or arguing that smoking outdoors shouldn't bother anyone, Doumani left the restaurant; as he passed the complaining party's table, the man said, loudly, "Only assholes smoke cigars." When Doumani pointed out that he was leaving, the man repeated himself: "Only assholes smoke cigars."

On another occasion, in another Napa Valley restaurant, Doumani was startled to smell the potent perfume on a woman at a nearby table. It overpowered everything on his plate and everything on his guests' plates. But he didn't say anything until later, when both parties were through eating, and he took his cigar out and she complained to the waiter. Doumani then told the waiter, "Will you please tell the lady that when she gets rid of that perfume, I'll put my cigar out."

A few minutes later, the woman and her party left. As she passed Doumani's table, he says, "She smacked me in the side of the head with her purse." Doumani is six-foot, two-inches, 220 pounds, but she hit him so hard that he toppled off his chair, on to the floor, and his glasses went flying across the room.

I don't intend this to be an apologia for cigar smokers. Some cigar smokers are rude and inconsiderate. Often, they're rich and powerful and arrogant, and they're not used to having anyone question anything they do. They're their own--and our--worst enemy.

Like most cigar smokers, I can't help but smile secretly when I hear stories like the one about the prominent attorney in Philadelphia who listened to a woman's request that he put out his cigar, then refused, saying, "Madam, this cigar cost more than your entire meal." Or the man at Morton's restaurant in Chicago who was so chagrined when a woman told him to, "Go smoke that damn thing in the bathroom," that he said, "Go eat your dinner in the bathroom." But those small satisfactions won't help us win The Great Cigar War.

If cigar smokers would follow the basic rules of courtesy I outlined above, it might help disarm all but the most rabid cigar haters. I've come to believe--perhaps naively--that in most settings, despite the current fulmination's of so many tantrumical tobacco tyrants, you and I can enjoy our cigars, and people who don't like them don't have to see or smell them. All it takes is reason and goodwill.

A few restaurants--too few, in my opinion--are trying to deal sensibly with this sensitive issue; the best solution, as I suggested earlier, is to have smoking and non-smoking sections, and to permit cigars as well as cigarettes in the smoking section. Among the restaurants that do this are Anthony's Pier 4 in Boston, Yuca in Miami, Gene and Georgetti's in Chicago, Tony's in Houston, the Palace Arms in the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and the Quilted Giraffe, Post House and The '21' Club in New York.

"If someone in the smoking area complains about a customer smoking a cigar, we move the complainer, not the smoker," says Ken Aretsky, the chairman, of '21.'

Lance Barbakow, manager at Boston's landmark restaurant, Locke-Ober, is even more cigar-friendly. Cigars are permitted throughout Locke-Ober, except in the private dining room on the third floor, and if someone complains, Barbakow says, "We explain that we're really not in a position to tell the cigar smoker to put his cigar out. We invite the person [who's complaining] to come into the lounge for dessert or an after-dinner drink."

Susan Wine, who runs the front of the house at the Quilted Giraffe while husband, Barry, is in the kitchen, creating some of the best and most original food in America, has an unusual solution to the cigar problem. Because of the strong Japanese influence in the restaurant's cuisine, it attracts many Japanese diners, and "If we need someone to sit between smokers and non-smokers, we often put Japanese there," she says. "So many of them smoke so much, they're used to smoking."

Most restaurants, however, are far more likely to move the smoker than they are to move the complainer or create a buffer table. Some restaurateurs--like Piero Selvaggio at Valentino in Santa Monica, just west of Los Angeles--do so graciously.

"I respect the pleasure some people take in the final taste of a Cognac and a cigar as a complement to a very special meal," Selvaggio says. "We have spaces that are detached [three separate dining rooms plus a nice bar/lounge area], so we can easily move someone with a cigar to a place where they can enjoy it, and no one else will he bothered."

Most restaurateurs tend to invite cigar smokers to adjourn to the bar or lounge. Many cigar smokers don't want to move--in part as a matter of principle, in part because they're comfortable in the dining room itself and in part because many bars, even in good restaurants, are not terribly pleasant.

"People would love to smoke their cigars in the dining room, not the bar," says Joachim Splichal, chef-proprietor of Patina in Los Angeles, "but it's impossible here. Someone tried to light up once, and it was like that Hitchcock movie--The Birds. Someone at every table in the dining room got up and ran to complain to the lady at reception in two seconds."

But some restaurants, like Patina, have bars and lounge areas, rooms in which a cigar and a Cognac or an Armagnac or a Port can be a decidedly pleasant experience.

At Palio in New York, the downstairs bar is dominated by a striking, wrap-around mural depicting the annual horse race in Siena, Italy, for which the restaurant is named; it may be the best single thing in the entire restaurant. At Ernie's in San Francisco, the bar "looks like a place where you would smoke a cigar," as Steve Morey, the sommelier, puts it. The bar has a classic Old English look about it, with high ceilings, mahogany walls and original Gibson prints. At Biba, which may be the best restaurant in Boston, the earthtones in the bar--forest-green chairs and banquettes and a brick-red, antique French tile floor--provide a muted backdrop for the anything-but-muted crowd that has made the bar there the noisiest and most frenetic chic-by-yowl scene in Boston. Best of all, the bar menu is as reasonable as it is varied, with prices substantially lower than in the restaurant upstairs.

Restaurants in good hotels also tend to have nice lounges in which cigar smokers can indulge their love of the leaf without fear of character (or actual) assassination. Hotel restaurants, in general, tend to be more accommodating to cigar smokers than do non-hotel restaurants, largely because hotel managers understand the importance of pleasing their guests.

"Guests come to think they can have whatever they want since they're paying quite a bit for their hotel rooms," says Christina Clifton, dining room manager at the French Room in the Four Seasons Clift Hotel in San Francisco. "Besides, we have more space, more rooms to move them to if anyone complains."

Sara Brewer, dining room manager and sommelier in the John Hay Room at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., puts it a little differently: "We're an old, European-style hotel, and smoking a cigar is a part of the ambiance. We have some customers who've been coming here for 20 years and smoking a cigar in their favorite armchair in the corner of the lounge."

Some restaurants, both inside and outside hotels, now have special rooms for cigar smokers. Remi in Santa Monica has a small wine room where cigar smokers are invited to enjoy themselves and have a Cognac, grappa or Port after dinner. Chanterelle in New York has a "cigar and Cognac room"--complete with a sofa, comfortable chairs and a table--specifically included in the design for the restaurant because chef David Waltuck loves cigars. Like the wine room at Remi, this room holds about a dozen people--although as Waltuck's wife and partner, Karen, says, "People are so much more emotional about cigars than they were ten years ago that many cigar smokers don't think to use the room because they don't even carry their cigars with them any more."

Jivan Tabibian, managing partner of Remi, often goes outside to the patio of his restaurant to smoke a cigar, and even there, he's been harassed.

"People walking by will ask me to put out my cigar," he says in tones of wounded wonderment. Despite this experience--and despite the increasingly pervasive hostility most cigar smokers encounter--Tabibian is one of a growing number of restaurateurs and hoteliers nationwide who now host regular cigar dinners.

The format and the size of the crowd varies at these events. Some have a dozen people; some have more than 100. Some serve a set menu; some let diners choose from the regular menu. Some provide complimentary cigars, courtesy of local tobacconists; others expect guests to provide their own cigars. Prices range from $40 to $250 per person.

Tabibian had his first cigar dinner last fall and the event was so popular that he had one monthly, then bi-weekly and--starting this past June--weekly. Every Tuesday, 10 or 12 cigar smokers pay $75 a head--tax, tip and wine included--to gather in the wine room at Remi for a four-course dinner, with a different wine accompanying each course ... and cigars and Cognac after dinner (although at Remi, as at the other cigar dinners, some guests smoke a cigar before dinner and/or during dinner as well).

Two other Los Angeles restaurants--Ma Maison and Pierre's Los Feliz Inn--have similar events monthly. So does Yuca in Miami. And San Domenico in New York. Last January, Windows on the World, also in New York, had 85 guests for its first cigar dinner, complete with a master cigar roller from the Dominican Republic--and a different cigar after each course. (The barbecued baby striped bass on smoked corn and cilantro was followed by a Macanudo Baron de Rothschild; the honey- and coriander-glazed côte de boeuf, with fried sage and celery root, was followed by a Partagas No. 1.)

At Stars in San Francisco, chef Jeremiah Tower, executive chef Mark Franz and former general manager Tony Angotti--cigar smokers all--orchestrated a dinner in March that also matched each course with cigars as well as wines.

"We had 25 people, a waiting list of 20 more, and we could have sold out four times over," Angotti says. Now the event will be monthly.

Henry Schielein, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, on the Pacific Coast about two hours south of Los Angeles, probably deserves credit for the renaissance of the cigar dinner. Schielein, whose proposal of marriage 29 years ago was contingent on his fiancée's acceptance of his cigars "for the rest of our lives," was annoyed one night in 1983 when he sensed people glaring at him as he lit up a cigar in the dining room at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Schielein had just taken over as general manager of the hotel, and he made two quick decisions--he'd sponsor a cigar dinner and he'd turn the ladies' tearoom into a cigar room at night.

The cigar dinners have continued in Boston every year since, and when Schielein came to Laguna Niguel in 1989, he started them annually there, too. Ritz-Carltons in various other cities--Philadelphia, San Francisco, Marina del Rey (Los Angeles) and Washington, D.C. among them--have since followed suit.

In general, all follow the Schielein formula--black tie, multi-course, multi-wine dinners followed by cigars, Cognac, Armagnac and vintage Port. Cigar retailers and distributors often provide a large selection of complimentary cigars, and there are few sights more amusing than watching more than 100 tuxedo-clad men, most of them quite wealthy, scrambling greedily to stuff their pockets with as many free cigars as they can grab.

The sudden proliferation of special cigar dinners is evidence that cigars--at least premium cigars--are making a comeback. Premium cigars account for only about 5% of total cigar sales but 15% of total cigar dollars. As with premium wine, sales of premium cigars have been increasing in this country in recent years, while overall cigar sales (like overall wine sales) have been declining. Sales of cigars priced at more than $2.50 each almost tripled from 1987 to 1990, according to the Cigar Association of America.

Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. As in earlier generations, the cigar is, to many, a symbol of material success--"a baton of power," in the words of George Brightman, formerly the manager of the Davidoff store in New York. That may, in fact, account for the unbridled animosity so many women exhibit toward cigar smokers--and there is no question that "it's almost always women who complain--never men," as Susan Wine of the Quilted Giraffe puts it.

"Women seem to have taken it up as a cause," Wine says. "But there are so many good, important causes for women, I wish they'd concentrate on those instead."

A number of famous women were cigar smokers--Virginia Woolf, Amy Lowell and George Sand among them--and it was Sand herself who said, "The cigar numbs sorrow and fills the solitary hours with a million gracious images." But the hostility of many women today toward cigars is often so virulent and so unreasonable--and some women are so eager to make spectacles of themselves in order to lodge their protests as dramatically as possible--that I'm convinced they're not motivated purely by dislike of the smell or by fear of the possible health hazard. Maybe there's something so symbolically, so resolutely masculine about cigars that the very sight of one--the very idea of one--enrages certain women. These women may see the cigar as emblematic of the abhorrently sexist discrimination, exploitation and exclusivity that many men have long practiced and that women have had to fight hard to overcome.

According to a study commissioned by CIGAR AFICIONADO, 99 percent of all premium cigar smokers surveyed are men, and the average household income of cigar smokers in this group is $194,000. Their average net worth is $1.5 million. They travel abroad, drink vintage wine, own more than one car, collect antiques, wear expensive watches. A disproportionate number of them are presidents, CEOs and possessors of advanced college degrees. In other words, they've made it. And a good cigar--an expensive cigar--is proof of that success, success that has long been unfairly denied to most women.

Lew Rothman, president of JR Tobacco Co., thinks too many people today are foolishly buying some cigars, expensive cigars, purely because they represent success--status. In essence, he says, all cigars that are hand made with long filler and 100 percent natural tobacco are about equal in quality, so people who buy expensive cigars are really buying image, not greater smoking pleasure.

Although Rothman says that approximately 20 million of the 50 million cigars he sells annually cost more than $1.50 each--and he sells one, the Partagas Regal, for $6.37--he thinks anyone who spends more than $1.50 for a cigar is "stupid." He insists that $1.50 "should get you anything you want unless it's a very, very large cigar; then I'd say $1.75 or $1.80." Rothman says he's "flabbergasted by people who spend $8 to $ 10 for a cigar. I can't believe that people who are bright enough to make the money to be able to afford those cigars are stupid enough to waste it on them."

Other tobacconists insist that there are enormous variations in the quality of both tobacco and craftsmanship that justify higher prices for some cigars, but Rothman is certainly right that in cigars, as in so many other consumer products, many people "equate cost with quality."

It may also be the case, however, that because even dedicated cigar smokers smoke fewer cigars now--thanks to the various restrictions and inhibitions imposed by law and by society--they are smoking better, more expensive cigars. In a sense, less is more. And while five cigars a day at $8 a pop can be an expensive habit, five cigars a week at $8 a pop may--for some--be a manageable self-indulgence rather than a major extravagance.

"Back when I started out, you couldn't buy a super premium," says Ben Henderson of Lone Star Tobacco in Houston. "Now they've caught on really well." Paul Macdonald, owner of the David P. Ehrlich shop in Boston, says super premiums have caught on so well that the Davidoffs from the Dominican Republic "exceeded my expectations three times over." Some tobacconists who specialize in premium cigars have also begun providing their own "smoking lounges" or "smoking clubs" to attract customers and give them a place to enjoy their purchases. Nazareth Guluzian, proprietor of the Beverly Hills cigar store that bears his name, originally had a couple of armchairs for customers, then found the demand so great that he put in sofas, added espresso and Cognac and created a private cigar-smokers club; he leased another small store a few yards away to accommodate the actual retail business. Three blocks away, the Davidoff store that opened last fall also plans a smoking club--upstairs, with leather armchairs and sofas, espresso and Cognac--a setting in which smokers can relax and indulge themselves without fear that someone nearby will break into a splenetic rage at the mere sight of a stogie.

The same societal pressures that have led smokers to seek these havens--and to attend special cigar dinners and to smoke more expensive cigars--may also help explain why many now smoke smaller cigars than they used to; they have to finish them while driving or walking to work, rather than in their office or at lunch or dinner, as in previous generations. But tobacconists say their customers are also smoking larger cigars, with bigger ring gauges, because when they can smoke, they want to luxuriate in it.

"What you're seeing," Rothman says, "is a movement away from the middle, to both smaller and larger cigars."

Mirroring trends toward lighter foods and alcoholic beverages--white wine rather than martinis--some (though by no means all) tobacconists simultaneously note a drift toward milder cigars.

Of course, size, shape and taste are matters of individual preference. Several of my friends love the feel of a panatela in their hand, for example, but Christopher Kuhl of Davidoff says, "Smoking a panatella is like drinking Mouton Rothschild through a straw."

Well, I happen to like both panatellas and Mouton, and given some of the neo-Prohibitionist sentiment I've sensed recently, I'm beginning to worry that some do-badders may soon try to make it as difficult for people to drink wine as they have made it for people to smoke cigars. I'm not quite sure why we have become a nation of blue-nosed busybodies--although I'm sure our Puritan heritage is part of it--but I wish the Moral Police would just leave me alone. If they'll let me smoke my cigar (and drink my wine) in peace, I'll promise not to blow smoke in their direction, not to drink and drive ... and not to complain about their smelly cigarettes, their sinus-clogging perfume... or their stupefying ignorance of the finer things in life.