As more and more major cities and states implement widescale workplace and public smoking bans, tobacco retailers may find it tempting to take for granted that legislators generally manage to exempt retail shops, often along with certain social organizations or other business, from smoking bans, granting them an indefinite reprieve in the form of a permanent exemption.

Unfortunately, as Washington state’s recent passage of a tough new statewide smoking ban brings to light, what’s good enough for one city or state may not meet the high expectations of another. Washington has taken the tough line, filling the gaps on unacceptable loopholes as seen in the minds of its legislators who have determined that a ban is a ban, and the ultimate mission can’t be accomplished if it’s dogged by a list of exemptions.

In other words, tobacco sellers, cigar importers, and anyone else who deals with cigars for a living - heck, even a cigar roller - can’t light up a cigar inside.

Unfortunately, this has left tobacco businesses - ones whose very livelihoods depend on the buying and selling of tobacco products - in an unfortunate position: not being able to legally sample their own merchandise, much less to let customers do the same.

When Florida banned smoking in public places - by writing it into its state constitution, no less - the cigar industry responded in force. “How can we be expected to develop, manufacture, import, distribute, and sell cigars if we’re violating state law” - sorry, make that the state constitution - “by lighting one up?” they demanded, as they darted into court. Florida eventually worked out a compromise, due in no small part to the state’s considerable history in cigar manufacturing and the industry’s current concentration there today.

But in other towns, cities, or states where there is little critical mass to defend the position of a relatively small number of retailers or other cigar businesses, the danger of being swept away completely by a smoking ban is all too real. Cigar bars in Washington? Forget about it. But what’s a cigar retailer to do? Should he or she not have the right to properly sample and evaluate his own merchandise, and extend that ability to his own customers?

Rational thinking has been eclipsed. Non-smokers simply have no basis to demand that a cigar shop - a place where cigar smokers buy merchandise to smoke - must legally be smoke-free. Employees of cigar shops are likewise equally capable of acts of self-determination: with every other conceivable job protected under clean air regulations, and little confidence that a rabid anti-smoker would make a good cigar merchant anyway, just who is being protected by a smoking ban in a cigar shop?

Sadly, the system is too big for a handful of retailers to fight back. Government turns to “scientific studies” to defend their case, even though the 1993 EPA study that has become the justification for nearly all of America’s smoking bans was thrown out by a U.S. Federal court of law in July 1998, vacated, and declared null and void by the ruling judge after he extensively commented on the shoddy way it was conducted. Yet its unproven conclusions are repeated, as fact, year after year.

You can’t smoke a cigar in a cigar shop? Give me a break!

E. Edward Hoyt III