Written by Puff Staff

Friday, 10 October 2008

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smoking banstobacco legislation

On a recent visit to Boston, Jewel stopped by Cigar Masters with a couple friends for a smoke
On a recent visit to Boston, Jewel stopped by Cigar Masters with a couple friends for a smoke. See more here.
Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke." Novelist Aldous Huxley called them "one of the major happinesses." And after World War I, US Vice President Thomas R. Marshall prescribed, "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar."

For years, Bostonians have confirmed these sentiments at any one of four cigar bars in the city, where patrons still can enjoy a fat Habano with a snifter of fine liqueur. The bars were exempt from the city's smoking ban that took effect in 2004.

But now city health officials are poised to revoke the exemption and order the bars closed, drawing angry protests at a public hearing yesterday and in interviews this week at the bars, where patrons fumed about the move over glasses of port and hand-rolled Rocky Patel Premiums.

Aficionados said the city's plan is an intrusion on their right to puff, and to savor.

"Where does it end?" Michael Bellody lamented, rolling a stubby Perdomo Habano between his fingers. "Let's ban window washing; someone could fall doing that. And let's ban joining the military; it's bad for public health because people could die."

The Boston Public Health Commission, which gave preliminary approval last month to a set of sweeping tobacco restrictions that includes banning the bars, said the measures are not intended to kill neighborhood businesses but to decrease the number of smoking-related deaths in the city.

Still, the protests have not gone unheeded. Mayor Thomas M. Menino said he is exploring the possibility of a compromise.

"I understand they've been there for a while and I want to work with the cigar bars," said Menino, who appointed the Public Health Commission. "I cannot during these tough economic times prevent them from doing business."

So far, however, the city has taken a hard line. Medical research suggests smoking cigars, cigarettes, or a hookah - a Middle Eastern water pipe with flavored tobacco - are all health risks, health officials say.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the city's Public Health Commission, said she doesn't want any more young people to pick up the deadly habits.

She said she wants to "de-normalize" smoking.

The restrictions, which face a final vote by the commission's seven-member board on Nov. 13, also would ban smoking on outdoor patios at restaurants and other businesses and prohibit tobacco sales on college campuses and by all drug stores in the city.

"Ideally, I'd like to say by 2025 that we don't have anybody smoking," Ferrer said.

The push has sparked debate about how much government intervention is too much, how far into private lives government should reach, and why, in a tough economy, the city would propose shutting down viable businesses.

Cigar Masters co-owner Brett Greenfield said he and his partners invested $270,000 in the Back Bay bar, relying on the smoking ban exemption.

"We're in a 20-year lease and they want to shut us down," Greenfield said. "There aren't people who are in there who are expecting to not be around second-hand smoke."

At Stanza Dei Sigari in the North End, one passionate smoker said the move violates her rights as much a government ban on abortion. "It's like pro-life, pro-choice. That's how I think of it," said Stacey Kennison, sipping a glass of red wine with a friend. "It's my decision."

Across from Faneuil Hall at Churchill's Lounge, a medical sales associate noted the irony of such government intervention in the so-called Cradle of Liberty.

"This is where it all started; this is where we decided that we would decide for ourselves what is right," said Chuck Yourch, who enjoys the "thick and meaty" taste of a Rocky Patel with his Perrier. "Now they're going to decide what we can do with our time, our bodies, and our money? This crosses a line."

And a lawyer asked how government had the power to shut down family-owned neighborhood businesses selling legal products.

"Doesn't the health department have better things to do with their time? They're killing small businesses," said Raymond Mansolillo, who was puffing a stogie at Churchill's.

Public health advocates who spoke at the public hearing yesterday cited research that shows smoking kills. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health said allowing smoking anywhere in Boston sends the wrong message - especially to younger people who might take up the extremely addictive habit.

Professor Greg Connolly said antismoking initiatives in the past decade have been successful at stamping out tobacco use, with smoking related deaths in Boston falling from about 1,150 per year to roughly 860.

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