Smoke May Turn 'Gold' in Cigar Bars
When the new smoking ban takes effect, the city's existing cigar bars will attain the status of a rent controlled apartment -- a sweet deal enshrined in law.
They will be the only public bars where tobacco can be legally puffed, and so are likely to become "gold mines,â€ said Mark Bernardo, editor of the quarterly Smoke magazine.
For one thing, he said, these establishments won't have to worry about new competition sprouting up nearby since none will be allowed. In addition, they may start attracting cigarette smokers, who will be starved for places to take a drag with their drink.
How many cigar bars are there in the city? Officials say they don't know for sure.
When the anti-smoking law was being discussed in December, the city said seven would be exempted from its ban. Sandra Mullin, spokeswoman for the city Health Department, said last week "anecdotallyâ€ there are about 10 cigar bars, where tobacco smoking of all kinds will be permitted after the law goes into effect at the end of March.
The precise number of these establishments will be known only after cigar bars file paperwork with the Health Department. Each has six months from the law's enactment to file to be listed as a "tobacco bar.â€ Any establishment earning 10 percent of its business from cigars or humidors as of Dec. 31, 2001 can qualify to escape the smoking ban.
Anti-smoking groups were not happy to see cigar bars shielded from one of the toughest smoking laws in the country.
Stogie enthusiasts, though, say shuttering cigar bars would have been un-American, like banning steak houses, or Scotch whiskey. For them, it's bad enough that no new cigar lounges can join the existing ones such as Club Macanudo or Northwest, both in Manhattan.
Folded into the smoking law was also a special exception for cigar conventions, such as the Big Smoke, an annual gathering sponsored by Cigar Aficionado magazine that promotes the habit while raising money for research into prostate cancer.
Rudolph Giuliani, who liked to smoke a cigar as mayor until he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, put in a good word for the Big Smoke with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said Bloomberg spokesman Jordan Barowitz. Although Giuliani spoke in jest, it had some impact in winning a break for the cigar-fests, Barowitz said. Giuliani is a friend of Marvin Shankman, the publisher of Cigar Aficionado, and was once featured on the cover of the glossy quarterly.
"It's part of big-city culture, especially in New York -- a symbol of the good life and relaxation,â€ Bernardo said. "I still see it as a matter of personal freedom: How do you tell a CEO who just sold a $200 million company that they can't light up a cigar to go with their drink?â€
Officials expect the law to be self-enforcing. Customers and workers will be able to report any establishments letting customers flout the ban. They say the previous limits on smoking in restaurants were almost uniformly observed without significant reliance on inspectors.
Mullin said the Health Department plans to hire "some additional staffâ€ to inspect workplaces in afternoon and evening shifts once the legislation goes into effect.
As for loopholes, the language of the bill suggests it will be difficult for bar and restaurant owners to find them.
Converting employees to faux or fractional owners in order to qualify as owner-operated will be impractical for most, since the bill says there can be no more than four owners of any establishment, with ownershp divided equally.
More widely expected is that some owners will hide their employees off-the-books so a business can try to represent itself, spuriously, as having none.