Vote in Boston could ban smoking, even in cigar bars

For Jay McGwire, Churchill's cigar bar in Boston is a place to relax while sipping a stout and smoking a cigar.

“I come here and I meet nice people,” he said. “And I can't smoke cigars in my house.”

But McGwire worries that eventually he will not be able to light up at Churchill's, either. The Boston Public Health Commission is proposing some of the nation's strictest smoking regulations, banning the sale of cigarettes at drugstores and on college campuses, and shutting down the city's 10 cigar and hookah bars by 2013.

The goal, the commission said, is to discourage young people from buying tobacco products, to keep a harmful product out of stores that promote health, and to protect employees who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

The Board of Health will vote on the regulations Nov. 13. If approved, they will take effect within 60 days.

“Should tobacco be treated as any other consumer good? No,” said Barbara Ferrer, the board's director. “We don't sell guns everywhere, we don't sell alcohol everywhere, and we don't need to be selling tobacco everywhere. They're all dangerous products, and they all require regulation.”

People who want to smoke and employees of the establishments where they can still do so say their rights are being threatened.

“They shouldn't be in the business of putting local businesses out of business,” said Drinnan Thornton, a bartender at Churchill's. “It's an issue of free choice. Cigar lounges aren't frequented by people who don't smoke.”

Mayor Thomas Menino says steps should be taken to keep tobacco products away from young people, but that the financial well-being of small businesses should be considered.