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Cigar smokers seeking right to smoke in public

Publication Date: 4/20/2011
  • Author:NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
  • Publication:Seattle Post-Intelligencer

As quests for freedom go, it's not exactly the fight against apartheid in South Africa. But cigar smokers around the country are fed up with smoking bans that prevent them from enjoying stogies in cigar bars with friends.

A rising number of states have moved to exempt cigars from indoor smoking bans, often by establishing cigar bars or smoking lounges inside cigar stores. Pro-cigar groups have sprung up nationally and in most states, spreading a message that their product is fundamentally different from cigarettes.

Cigar smokers are not interested in exposing the general public to their pungent fumes, said Joe Arundel, president of the Cigar Association of Washington. But they don't see why they can't smoke in the company of fellow enthusiasts -- a gathering known as a "herf" in cigar circles -- in businesses dedicated solely to the product.

"It's not like people walk into a cigar store by accident," Arundel, who operates Rain City Cigar in Seattle, said.

Washington used to have cigar bars and lounges. But a ban on all indoor smoking in 2005 put them out of business. A bill introduced in the state Legislature this year that would allow a limited number of cigar lounges and bars has languished in committee, after getting vehement opposition from the state Department of Health.

The Health Department opposes any change to the state's indoor smoking ban, one of the nation's first, said Tim Church, a spokesman for the agency.

"The indoor smoking law was passed by a great majority in every county in Washington state," Church said.