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As Beverly Hills weighs tobacco ban, aficionados rally behind a 'treasured' cigar club

Sonja Sharp, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"The Grand Havana Room attracts thoughtful people who want to engage in thoughtful conversation," wrote Rabbi Steven Weil of the Orthodox Union. "It has shaped the film, music, and financial industries."

Initial outcry led to a significant revision of the original ordinance, which comes just months after a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco, and in a city where smoking is already strictly limited.

In Beverly Hills, it is already illegal to smoke almost everywhere, including while standing on the sidewalk or walking through a farmers market. The city also prohibits smoking in apartments and condos.

For a time, hotels would have skirted the new ban, retaining the ability to sell cigarettes to their guests. But as the ordinance was revised, cigar lounges have emerged as the lone exception.

"The cigars exemption is a firm one, that's what we think," said Rigo Fernandez, owner of the Buena Vista Cigar Club, one of the two other establishments excluded from the proposed ban.

The exception has drawn protest from other tobacco sellers, who said they were unfairly excluded.

"The Health and Safety Commission firstly exempted cigar lounges and hotels because of their economic status," wrote John Pouldar, who owns a gas station on Olympic Boulevard and would lose the right to sell tobacco products under the ban. "(The city) is discriminative towards other businesses mainly because our clients aren't powerful."


Tuesday's vote will be the first of two required for the new rule to pass. If it does -- as is expected -- the first prohibitions will come online in January.

Still, Fernandez said he couldn't miss Tuesday's hearing.

"It's my wife's birthday too -- but it's my life," Fernandez said. "I've had countless sleepless nights. This is my only income. If they cut the sales of cigars, I'm broke."

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