LOS ANGELES -- The city of Beverly Hills is expected to approve what officials say is the most stringent tobacco ban in the country, eliminating the sale of virtually all recreational nicotine products -- with one very Beverly Hills exception.
For an elite group of aficionados, hundreds of whom swamped committee meetings and wrote the city in protest, cigars will be spared -- as long as they're smoked inside one of three dedicated lounges.
Entreaties have poured in from top executives at real estate offices, security firms, talent agencies -- and from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Nearly all of them are acolytes of the Grand Havana Room on North Canon Drive, a club so exclusive its members need a special key to get in.
"The Grand Havana Room, which I have been a member of since its inception, provides a treasured home away from home," wrote Schwarzenegger, whose letter was among those the city received in support of the club. "It is unthinkable that the city might adopt a policy that would intentionally or unintentionally cause the closure of this character-defining institution."
Schwarzenegger made clear he supported the ban, which is scheduled for a vote Tuesday night. "I am right there with you," he wrote. "I agree with your battle to protect people from the dangers of tobacco smoke."
But when it came to his club, Schwarzenegger wrote, the city should back off.
"I trust that (the city) will recognize the fundamental difference" between clubs like the Grand Havana Room and a gas station selling nicotine pods for e-cigarettes, he wrote.
Others made a similar distinction.
"I know very well the adverse effects on health, that's why I'm supportive of the general ban," said Dr. Richard Shemin, chairman of cardiac surgery at UCLA and a vocal advocate for the cigar lounge exemption. "However, I think adults in private clubs who make personal choices should be allowed to do so."
Officials had expected some pushback over the proposal, which they say would make Beverly Hills the first city in the United States to enforce a sweeping ban on the sale of all tobacco and nicotine products except those the FDA has approved to help smokers quit.