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. A number of state-owned restaurants in Havana’s picturesque colonial quarter have quietly gone smoke-free indoors in recent weeks as authorities 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 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.
“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.
Mr. Kuntze and six other smokers from Hamburg were on a nine-day tobacco tour, sampling more than three cigars daily and selecting 50 each to bring home.
“[No-smoking ordinances are] 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 Mr. 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 soon, 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.
Habaguanex officials described it as a bottom-up trend rather than an order from on high, but said an official decree could be made at some point.
“There is a campaign at the world level in which we should also take part, where we are helping to create healthier spaces even for the smokers themselves,” Ms. Sibori said.
Diners are still welcome to enjoy their after-dinner cigars – just move to the outside tables, please, where you can people-watch on the quaint, cobblestone plazas and enjoy the balmy, tropical breeze.
“Cuba has an eternal summer, and you can take advantage of the terraces and exterior spaces,” Ms. Sibori said.