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CIGAR BARS | Globe Editorial

Local power goes up in smoke

June 1, 2011

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CIGAR BARS, with their stogie-loving clientele, have long been a logical exception to bans on smoking in public places. Unlike in a normal bar or restaurant, there are no unsuspecting cigar-bar customers obliged to breathe in a cloud of toxic smoke. Everyone associated with a cigar bar knows that the establishment exists to provide a place for people to smoke.

So Mayor Menino is carrying his public-health advocacy too far in trying to block local cigar bars completely. There’s no evidence that they are harming unwilling bystanders or providing unfair competition to other restaurants and bars, so the mayor is essentially telling consenting adult smokers that they can’t have a place to gather and eat and drink. Menino is right to be concerned for the health of cigar smokers, but there isn’t enough of a danger to the broader public to justify sweeping action.

That said, the bar owners’ attempt to thwart Menino by getting the Legislature to pass measures protecting Boston’s existing cigar bars is a misuse of state power. Using Beacon Hill to trump City Hall harks back to the Yankee-Irish battles of the early 20th century, when the supposedly enlightened Legislature sought to stamp out sinful practices by unruly city governments. The dynamics have changed; this time, state legislators, at the behest of a special interest, are working against a mayor bent on stamping out a vice.

But now, as then, it’s better to leave these local disputes to local governments, unless overriding policy concerns are in play. There aren’t any here. If the cigar-bar measure makes it to his desk, Governor Patrick should veto it.

Cigar-bar owners should fight City Hall the usual way — by appealing adverse regulatory decisions and putting their objections before the community. The mayor is hardly insensitive to public opinion, and in this case he should seek to make a reasonable accommodation for cigar bars. If he doesn’t, the bar owners should comply, at least until the next election. The Legislature, meanwhile, should stay out of it.