Outdoor smoking bans next target for nannies

Glynn Loope Contributor
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On Nov. 29, 2009, Parade Magazine ran a piece on outdoor smoking bans. It posed an opinion poll to their readership on whether outdoor bans should be enacted. In its traditionally biased fashion, Parade notes the growth in such bans, pending legislation on outdoor smoking, and the proverbial citation of the regurgitated 2006 Surgeon General’s Report.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the polling place. Cigar Rights of America disseminated the poll to its members, Facebook and Twitter community and related mediums. Other like-minded organizations jumped in, and within days, what was to be a lopsided poll turned from being against cigar enthusiasts, into a 69 percent-to-31 percent victory for the cause, against the imposition of outdoor bans.

Of course this occurs months after the most famous outdoor smoking incident of 2009—and perhaps ever. When basketball great (and cigar enthusiast) Michael Jordan was cited for enjoying cigars during the President’s Cup golf practice round in San Francisco’s Harding Park, local officials contacted the PGA to warn of $100 fines and local “rules,” on no smoking on county golf courses.

The very language of the news accounts indicate what the modern cigar enthusiast is confronting. The media stated Jordan was “caught” with a cigar, and that local officials “sprang into action.” In my neck of the woods, that’s what local officials do for meth labs, not cigars.

However, there is now a sweeping tide by the health care “non-profit” organizations to press for outdoor smoking bans. State and local governments across the nation are drafting legislation that will seek to ban the outdoor use of perfectly legal tobacco products.

For over a year, Cigar Rights of America has been involved in the fight regarding an outdoor smoking ban in the City of Los Angeles. In a plot that never seems to end, a current proposal would ban outdoor smoking at Los Angeles restaurants, but could leave the window open for those establishments that “morph” into a nightclub type setting.

From Casper, Wyo., to the shores of Maine, outdoor smoking bans have become the new battleground. It is beginning with ordinances on property controlled by the local governments, such as parks and government buildings. But that’s only the first step. They then want to evolve into outdoor dining and bar areas, again trying to control legal activity, on private property.

So that they can trump Boston with their outdoor smoking ban, the City of San Francisco this month announced pending legislation to also ban outdoor smoking at dining, coffee and bar settings. The local golf course just isn’t enough.

Others pending in Asheville, N.C., and Burlington, Vt., are probably to be expected given the local political environment, but the New York City proposal seems to be running against the grain of their local public opinion, with a vigorous effort to defeat it being planned. Then there is Santa Cruz, Calif., which is having local police issue citations for outdoor smoking on Pacific Avenue, where they average “a ticket a day for $20” according to local news reports. Amazing.

It’s time to fight back on these measures. What a local government does with regard to property under its domain is one thing, and many governing bodies are split on such rules for public parks and beaches. However, when it comes to private property, vigorous efforts should be initiated to fight such ordinances and legislation. Here are some approaches:

  1. Build coalitions with supportive merchant, chamber of commerce, restaurant and tavern associations. Make the argument about business, jobs, and property rights.
  2. Launch a letter-to-the-editor campaign with your brethren cigar enthusiasts and local tobacconist patrons.
  3. Meet with local (or state) elected officials to let your opinion known. Political complacency is not an option. They need to know how many passionate cigar enthusiasts are out there—that vote.
  4. Give testimony at local hearings on such ordinances. If ‘we’ don’t show up, they only hear from the opposition.
  5. The official smoking ban playbook for the health care community promotes ‘no compromises’—we can. Offer alternatives that protect your ability to enjoy a cigar outdoors.
  6. Note that the science is dubious and inconclusive regarding these matters, and that a vocal minority in the form of the health care non-profit community, shouldn’t be allowed to dictate public policy, and private property use for a legal activity.

Earlier in December, the City of Great Falls, Mont., voted 4-1 to repeal its outdoor smoking ban due to the adverse impact on local businesses, with the support of the Montana Tavern Association. Local tavern owner Doug Palagi said that will enable him to expand his business to accommodate local and visiting patrons. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Glynn Loope is executive director of Cigar Rights for America.