Certainly in the U.S., the economy and the election are the major features of the year and for cigar smokers, while the quality of cigars now in production is as good as it ever has been, places to enjoy them with friends are fewer and fewer.
Heinrich Villiger noted recently in an interview with the European Cigar-Cult Journal that “The ban on smoking, not only in Europe, but also in the USA, has already led to a clear stagnation of the growth of the premium cigar market sector,” adding that “the importers’ warehouses are anything but empty...”
There’s no doubt that the anti-smoking lobby continues to push hard against cigarettes, and cigars are simply swept up in the tide. But there were indications – albeit modest ones – that even non-smokers are beginning to appreciate the over-reaching of the antis.
Of special note is a December 23 essay titled “Blowing Smoke over Private Property Rights” by Russ Harding, director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market-themed research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Michigan. Every cigar smoker who values a place to enjoy their hobby needs to read it, and it is reproduced here in full:
Although popular in some quarters, government-imposed smoking prohibitions are an assault on private property rights. So it's good news that the Michigan Legislature has acted wisely by leaving in place current law that allows businesses — including restaurant and bar owners — to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking on their property.As indoor smoking is being completely eliminated – in some cities and states, even in smokeshops – and the antis work to eliminate smoking outdoors, Harding’s commentary is a warning.
Smoking bans may not strike most people as an obvious government property taking in the same manner as seizing someone's home to make way for a new highway, but both are an erosion of the right to use one's own private property free from government meddling.
Special interest groups lobbying for the ban contend that second-hand smoke has negative health effects. For example, the American Lung Association points to a study by the California Environmental Protection Agency that estimated some 3,400 lung cancer deaths and 46,000 heart disease deaths occur each year in non-smokers due to second-hand smoke exposure.
These findings, however, are called into doubt by a 2003 article in the British Medical Journal that examined statistics from an American Cancer Society cancer prevention study that tracked 118,094 adults from 1959 to 1998. These kinds of long-term (longitudinal) studies using a very large sample are considered the gold standard of epidemiological research.
The focus of BMJ article was 35,561 people included in that large study who never smoked but were married to smokers. The authors concluded there was no statistically significant casual relationship between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco-related mortality, although they did not rule out a small effect. The conclusion was that the association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.
Smoking ban proponents also cite anecdotal evidence that the policy helps business at bars, restaurants, casinos and bowling alleys. The people who actually know what they're talking about, however, — the owners of these establishments — generally oppose laws that repeal their right to choose for themselves what to allow or not allow on their own property.
In fact, many restaurants have already chosen to not allow smoking. For some this is no doubt a good business decision. Forcing it on others will almost certainly cost them money, since every establishment is different, each with its own unique clientele who have their own particular tastes and preferences.
Since no individual is forced to work or dine at any particular establishment, and plenty of choice exists between smoking and non-smoking ones, shouldn't this be an area where we let freedom ring?
C.S. Lewis wrote: “Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive . . . those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
Most Americans don't smoke, but they do own property. The issue today may be smoking bans, but tomorrow it may be prohibiting other individual choices in how to use your own property. The price of freedom is eternal diligence: Now is the time to say, "Enough!" when it comes to undue government interference with private property rights.
The only ways to push back against this tide is by involvement in the public process and through court challenges. Cigar smokers must, it is sad to say, monitor the legislative process and protest as loudly as possible whenever further smoking bans are proposed. The anti-tobacco forces have religious zeal in their push to try and eliminate smoking worldwide and have made local and national governments a willing accomplice in many places. But not all.
In Los Angeles, a dedicated group of smokers, retailers and manufacturers has been quietly speaking with members of the City Council and their staffs about the various proposed smoking ban extensions since a proposed outdoor dining area ban was brought before a Council committee last August. Over the past five months, Council offices have been meeting with both the anti-tobacco lobby and with pro-cigar groups thanks in significant part to assistance from the Cigar Rights of America grass-roots support group. The result has been a much more balanced view of the issues faced by smokers, as market forces have reduced the number of restaurants with outdoor dining areas to well less than 10%. We are the minority that should be protected, in the consumption of a legal product. That message was heard and although not popular with some, has resonated with elected officials whose mandate is to serve all of the people of Los Angeles and a compromise that both sides can agree with is being sought.
The Kansas City Council was similarly lobbied by smokeshops and especially by Outlaw Cigar Co. owner Kendall Culbertson to carve an exception for smokeshops into the voter-approved smoking ban. After some months of effort, a very modest exemption was created, a victory for common sense, but one which was jeered by the antis.
And in Dallas, what was expected to be a rollover win for the anti-smoking forces to impose a much wider smoking ban ended with the Dallas Morning News characterized as a modest expansion of the existing ban to bars and billiard halls.
Even in Boston, where the “Public Health Commission” approved a very wide expansion of the city’s smoking ban, pressure from cigar-bar owners won a 10-year reprieve from closure with a procedure to allow an even longer exemption.
Pressure works and if we are to enjoy cigars anywhere in 2010, 2015, 2020 and beyond, we have to be activists and politicians as well as cigar enthusiasts.