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Let's have a whiff of compromise

08 December 2005

As assiduous readers of Caterer will know, the magazine is, for perfectly logical reasons, in favour of a complete ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. In the spirit of open debate, however, I'd like to offer a few thoughts of my own.

My problem with legislation on this issue is that one perfectly harmless source of pleasure will also be outlawed. Smoking an occasional cigar in a well-ventilated lounge after a good dinner is one of the great pleasures of the table, and it seems to me utterly unnecessary to ban it. It's not an especially dangerous pastime - less so, I would have thought, than making free with the single malt or overdoing the foie gras.

No sommelier or waiter I've met has ever complained about the passive smoke from a cigar. Indeed, many pride themselves on their knowledge of cigars just as much as their knowledge of wine, and many sommelier competitions feature the skills of choosing, serving, cutting and lighting cigars.

The manufacture of cigars is actually considerably more complicated than winemaking, involving 20 or more processes of curing, selecting, fermenting and rolling to produce incredibly complex flavours, akin to fine chocolate or old brandy. Whether you like cigars or not, they're undeniably a high-quality product, and their natural environment is the restaurant, where they can be enjoyed alongside many of life's other pleasures.

Are cigars elitist? I don't think they need to be. The average 20-a-day cigarette smoker will spend 35 a week on the habit - the price of three or four good Havanas, which is more than most cigar smokers manage. If government taxes on cigars were less swingeing, it would be even less elitist. What will make it worse is if everybody needs to join the Garrick Club simply to enjoy a post-prandial cheroot.
Surely it's not beyond the wit of mankind, or even politicians, to come up with sensible rules and proper ventilation to allow an enjoyable and harmless pursuit to continue? As a luxury and a delicacy, cigars are actually rather more affordable than caviar, white truffles and vintage Champagne, but they certainly belong in the same arena: a good restaurant.

In the febrile atmosphere of the current debate, one of our great Epicurean pleasures may simply vanish in a last, wistful puff of smoke.

Over to you

Should cigars be banned from restaurants?

Charlie McVeigh, proprietor, Bush Bar & Grill, London "Yes. I think cigars and cigarettes should both be banned from restaurants. Diners tend to complain more about cigar smoke than cigarettes, as the aroma is more intense. But as for members' clubs, I think it should be up to them to choose whether or not they decide to get rid of cigars too."

David Cavalier, food innovations director, Charlton House "People who enjoy good cigars are paying £50 or £60 for a decent one. It's not like spending a few pounds on a packet of Marlboro Lights. If a separate area is available in a restaurant for cigar smoking, then no, I don't think they should be banned. It's part of our culture."

Matthew Brown, head chef at Wheelers of St James, London "I work in a basement kitchen. Clients spark up in the oyster bar upstairs and I can always smell it all the way downstairs. Cigar smokers don't give a monkey's about anyone else. It's vile and disgusting. But cigar smoking has gone on for 50 years here at Wheelers, and it's not going to change."

John Campbell, executive chef, Vineyard at Stockcross "Cigars and cigarettes are two very different disciplines. You smoke a cigarette, whereas you taste a cigar. I haven't met anyone who dislikes the smell of cigars. But if I was in a lounge, sipping Cognac, I'd be offended if someone whipped out a cigarette rather than something like a Montecristo. Cigars have a place in history."

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