When the city of Madison, Wisc. elected to ban smoking in all indoor public places earlier this year, the town's two cigar bars were understandably concerned: the ban applied to restaurants, bars, and every other indoor workplace. Certainly, the town fathers would be willing to entertain an exception of some sort for a business literally built around the sale and enjoyment of tobacco products? Heck, even New York City kept a pitiful handful of places to serve the millions of residents and visitors that wander its neighborhoods and streets each year.

Well, no such luck for Madison. An exemption of any sort would not be fair to the other businesses, it was determined, nor to the employees of the smoking establishments who wouldn't benefit from the right of a smoke-free workplace.

It's precisely this closed thinking that, left unchecked to spread nationwide, will deprive citizens of any reasonable choice in this matter (smoking) and who knows what else next.

On a more positive note, despite recently downward-revised premium cigar import numbers from the Cigar Association of America (CAA) for the past several years (see Industry News, page 52), the market still showed solid gains, even if they weren't quite as big as we all thought.

And despite the prognostications during the post-boom cigar glut that there would be only five cigar manufacturers remaining after the big shakeout, there is a surprising healthy amount of competitive activity in all three of the major producing regions - Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua - with a number of companies in others regions that continue to see the U.S. market as an important, desirable audience for premium cigars.

Just take a look at the myriad of companies represented at this year's RTDA Trade Show in New Orleans, where numerous small manufacturers are celebrating 10-year anniversaries - companies that, many will readily admit, skeptics and other industry experts "wrote off" years ago and predicted would never see a second decade in business. But innovation and variety often start from the small firms, and premium cigars continue to enjoy a perfect storm of stable tobacco supplies from the farms, a resurgence of interest in different tobacco strains, and a veritable horse race in custom harvesting and fermenting techniques. Add it all up, and we have tremendous variety in the market, from a plethora of limited-edition lines, seasonal lines, and ever-expanding regular lines with new twists.

If government will just allow cigar enthusiasts a small shred of dignity to enjoy these fine products in the traditional surroundings we've come to expect, then we'll be all set. But don't expect it without a fight.

E. Edward Hoyt III