CUBA

The Washington Times Daily - - Life -

“Cuba has an eter­nal sum­mer, and you can take ad­van­tage of the ter­races and ex­te­rior spa­ces,” Ms. Si­bori said.

Still, such a thought is anath­ema to some in Cuba.

The is­land has an in­grained to­bacco cul­ture and is proud of its world-fa­mous cigar in­dus­try, which brought in $401 mil­lion in sales last year. When other goods were in scarce sup­ply, cig­a­rettes con­tin­ued for years to be part of is­lan­ders’ monthly ra­tion books.

Even non­smok­ers cher­ished the sub­si­dized to­bacco, which they sold on the black mar­ket or traded for other goods.

But Fidel Cas­tro gave up his trade­mark Co­hibas in 1985 on doc­tors’ or­ders, and au­thor­i­ties have gen­tly dis­cour­aged the vice.

To­day, state-run ra­dio airs public ser­vice an­nounce­ments about the ben­e­fits of quit­ting, and cig­a­rette packs carry health warn­ings. Cig­a­rette dis­pens­ing ma­chines have dis­ap­peared. Au­thor­i­ties be­gan phas­ing out the to­bacco ra­tion in the 1990s and fully elim­i­nated it in 2010.

Mr. Cas­tro even joked about the ills of smok­ing cigars by say­ing, “The best thing to do is give them to your enemy.”

Still, govern­ment num­bers say as many as 4 in 10 Cubans smoke — though that is way down from es­ti­mates of 60 per­cent to 70 per­cent in the 1970s.

Cuba has had a res­o­lu­tion on the books since 2005 ban­ning smok­ing in the­aters, stores, buses, taxis, restau­rants and other en­closed public ar­eas.

But many are un­aware of the law, and it’s com­mon to see peo­ple brazenly light up prac­ti­cally any­where they the­o­ret­i­cally shouldn’t: of­fices, stair­wells, el­e­va­tors, buses, trains.

“This is a coun­try of smok­ers, a coun­try with an im­por­tant to­bacco tra­di­tion,” Ms. Si­bori said. “Chang­ing habits that form part of our roots is very dif­fi­cult. I imag­ine that lit­tle by lit­tle things will be im­ple­mented so that this takes shape, but I still think there is much work to be done.”

On a re­cent af­ter­noon in El Mer­cu­rio cafe, ta­bles were packed with French tourists chow­ing down on pork loin, rice, beans and fried plan­tains. Miss­ing was the stale, smoky haze that used to hang over the ta­bles.

Wait­ers said they ap­pre­ci­ate go­ing home at night in cloth­ing that doesn’t smell like an ash­tray. Chefs take smoke breaks out­side the back door with­out ap­par­ent com­plaint. There is still some clan­des­tine in­door smok­ing at some places late at night when most clients are gone, how­ever.

“Why not?” said Thomas Gabrisch, a Dus­sel­dorf, Ger­many, mu­sic pro­fes­sor who was puff­ing on a slen­der cigar­illo out­side El Mer­cu­rio, when asked whether he was OK with the in­door ban. “I think [smok­ing] both­ers a lot of peo­ple. For me, it would not be a prob­lem. . . . But I think a lot of peo­ple would like to stay in­side.”

That sen­ti­ment was echoed by Dirk Broder­sen, one of the afi­ciona­dos from Ham­burg, who said it was an ad­ven­ture to be able to smoke the pre­vi­ous night at a base­ment mu­sic club.

“What is Cuba? Rum, cigars, sun and peo­ple,” Mr. Broder­sen said. “Cuban jazz with­out a cigar — not so good.”

Yoel Cha­con may have to start tak­ing his cigars out­side, rather than in the com­fort of the Conde de Vil­lanueva ho­tel, as Cuban au­thor­i­ties start to en­force a 2005 mea­sure that has been al­most uni­ver­sally flouted un­til now.

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