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Cigars get smoked too

When smokers across the province comply with a strict new law that bans smoking rooms in all enclosed public areas and workplaces next week, cigar smokers say they will feel the pain more than others.

"Cigar smoking used to be a status symbol -- now people look at you like you're high on drugs," said Butch Grant, 35, settled into a leather armchair in the smoker's lounge of La Casa del Habano, a tobacconist shop off the lobby of the Park Hyatt Hotel that is closing and moving to a smaller, lounge-less space on Cumberland Avenue.

Close to a dozen similar lounges across the city will shut down next week, putting cigar smokers out on the street, and lumping them in with cigarette smokers, with whom they say they have little in common.

The Smoke-Free Ontario Act will close the door on the cigar subculture, a predominately male crowd that gathers to puff away from the reproach of the public and the complaints that can arise over this smelly pastime.

Cigar smokers know they represent a minority of smokers and that it's hard to gain any sympathy.

"This is our tree house," said John Perrone, 50, smoking in the upstairs lounge at Thomas Hinds Tobacconist in Yorkville, where the walls are lined with photos of Hollywood stars who have frequented the shop in years gone by.

"The new law has an edge of maliciousness to it. Give us our small corner and we'll stay there," he said.

Retailers are bracing for the worst. "The impact will be disastrous," said Thomas Hinds, who has been selling cigars and pipe tobacco in Yorkville for 35 years.

"People come here for a cigar because they don't want to smoke in front of their kids at home, and that's what this law is supposed to be about, protecting children, and I'm all for that," he said.

"Now, we have a situation where they won't have a place to go."

Quebec and Manitoba have let smoking continue inside existing cigar shops, he added.

"I smoke in my backyard, but part of the experience is getting together and socializing over a cigar," said Jeff Shin, 48, while smoking at Casa del Habano.

Others are concerned about the ban's potential impact on tourism.

"There is a cigar culture in Toronto that is also enjoyed by Americans who come here to smoke Cuban cigars," said U.S. citizen Stephen Hajtun, 59, smoking at Casa del Habano. Americans are not allowed to buy any Cuban products under a long-standing embargo.

Mr. Hajtun said the Ontario law goes too far.

"There are 80 places in Manhattan where you can still smoke a cigar and New York City has some of the most restrictive smoking laws anywhere."

The new law may also end up offending non-smokers even more than before.

Prego Della Piazza, across the street from Casa del Habano, is one of only a few Toronto restaurants where cigar smoking is allowed in a separate dining room. But when the ban comes into effect, cigar smokers will have to move to a patio outside.

"Cigar smell always travels and it's worse outside than inside because it gets carried by the wind," general manager Vince Carrere said.

Cigar smokers will gather for one last bash at the Drake Hotel on Queen Street West Tuesday night for a party where patrons will butt out en masse at the stroke of midnight, or step outside to begin life as street smokers.

"This law will affect the friendship and fellowship created by this common pursuit," said Mr. Perrone at Thomas Hinds' smoking room.

"I think we're going to enter the era of the smoke-easy."

Source: Globe and Mail