Old Havana restaurants slowly go smoke-free

It’s a quintessentially Cuban experience: Capping off a meal with a snifter of rum and an aromatic cigar.

This Caribbean nation is renowned around the world for its pungent Cohibas, Montecristos and Romeo y Julietas, but on the island, stogie-lovers are increasingly being told to take it outside.

Cigar Smoking

People smoke cigars in Havana, Cuba.

A number of state-owned restaurants in Havana’s picturesque colonial quarter have quietly gone smoke-free indoors in recent weeks as authorities there enforce a 2005 measure that has been almost universally flouted across the country.

The goal is to improve the culinary experience and safeguard the health of both diners and employees, but it’s also raising eyebrows among cigar aficionados and cigarette smokers who say the right to light up is part of the tropical country’s charm. Already, public smoking bans have spread to cities worldwide, from New York to Beijing.

“No-smoking areas? It’s incredible!” said Michael Kuntze, a 59-year-old German day care manager who was savoring a long cigar and sipping rum and cola in the Hotel Conde de Villanueva, home to one of the city’s most popular cigar rooms.

“That (no-smoking ordinances) is what we have in Europe, in Germany, but we don’t want this here,” he said, as aromatic smoke rose from the thick ash at the end of his stogie. “This is why we are here. Not to sit inside a small smoking lounge, no. Never.”

Officials say the Conde de Villanueva, a favorite of cigar tourists like Kuntze, will continue to let guests and diners smoke.

At least nine state-run restaurants in the small, tourist-packed colonial area of Havana have banned smoking inside since the end of 2011, and more will do so in the near future, said Tannya Sibori, publicity manager for Habaguanex, the state-run business that administers tourist concerns in Old Havana.

Only sealed, air-conditioned dining rooms are affected, and Habaguanex restaurants all still have open-air spaces for smokers. There is no word on a ban for bars or nightclubs, and the owner of one of Havana’s private restaurants said he had received no guidance on whether the “paladares” must follow suit.

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