Friday, April 10, 2009

Coffee and Cigars

image by Keith Kee Fu Yeung

Below is an essay I wrote for my HTR bi-weekly coffee column a week ago. The editors decided it would go better at the top of the OpEd page rather than in its usual location on the Food page. After it ran I received a number of comments, all of them complimentary and supportive of the article's point-of-view...that is, all except one. The piece also ran in the Marshfield News Herald and the Wausau Daily Herald and caused a bit of a stir up there with at least one woman who not only commented on the article online but also left me a couple of rather nasty voice messages. You can listen to those messages by clicking on the audio gadget in the right-hand column (they're too funny to not share). Here's the article.

Exemptions needed in proposed smoking ban

Coffee and tobacco have surely been bedfellows ever since they first met. They are paired in literature, film and the visual arts, and in our collective cultural consciousness in much the same way that we’ve become accustomed to think of wine and cheese as an ideal pairing. I enjoy both coffee and tobacco, and have participated in paired tastings of the two, but my enjoyment demands a rather specific qualifier: that they be handcrafted or artisan produced.

Specialty coffee is artisan coffee. It is usually grown, processed and produced with more personal, hands-on attention and involvement from small groups of people who are as concerned with high quality and uniqueness as they are with making a living at it. It is perceived as coffee that is, from seed to cup, produced with passion and love by “real people” with their own special stories. This perception contrasts with that of the industrial, pre-ground and canned grocery store coffee produced by huge, faceless corporations. The reality is also that the two end-products, specialty coffee and mass-market coffee, are generally as different in quality as are, say, a fine vintage French wine and a cheap and fruity 4-pac wine cooler. They both use the word “wine,” but are really quite different.

Similar realities color the world of tobacco, but public perceptions of this product are not nearly as sophisticated as they have become for products such as coffee, wine or craft beer. I think these days most people understand and would readily agree that there are clear differences between artisan products and their mass-market counterparts. Tobacco, on the other hand, is generally viewed solely via the image of a cigarette, and is perceived as only bad.

That is unfortunate, because just as is the case in the fields of coffee, beer, wine, cheese or practically any organic, consumable item, so too under the general umbrella of tobacco there are very different products produced by very different methods, using dramatically different source materials, and by philosophically opposed producers. I am talking about the differences between mass-market cigarettes that are produced by the “big tobacco” companies, and fine, handcrafted cigars produced by smaller companies and family-run operations. They are two different animals in just about every practical aspect, including, I would argue, their effects upon one’s health and well-being.

The adverse effects of cigarette smoking upon a smoker’s health have been apparent for decades and most would argue that those ill effects outweigh the positive effects. However, cigar smoking, as a pastime and social activity has both scientific and empirical support for positive benefits upon one’s physical and mental health, including in the areas of longevity, disease resistance and anti-depression. The primary attraction of a good cigar, however, if the delightful variety of tastes and aromas that it produces, which are not at all unlike those of a fine coffee.

The proposed smoking ban that is included in the State of Wisconsin budget is supported by incomplete and even misleading information, nor does it differentiate between two very different products and their attendant risks or benefits. It is also a direct assault on entrepreneurial freedom. Cigar bars and lounges, opened by Wisconsin entrepreneurs specifically with cigar lovers in mind will likely become extinct. Cigar lounges, such as Manitowoc’s Lakeshore Cigar Company, serve much the same function as coffee shops in that they are “third places” that bring people together, foster social well-being and enhance community. The loss of such places, if this proposal is passed without exemptions, would be most unfortunate and wrong.

One of my more treasured pastimes is the joy of experiencing excellent coffee and cigars with friends in a setting that encourages stimulating conversation, relaxation and a sense of community. I do sincerely hope that common sense prevails and that the smoking ban does not pass as it is now written. Our community will be the lesser for it if it does.

image by Abstract Gourmet
I've included below the additional online comments (copied just as she posted them) from this woman that she posted on the Wausau Daily Herald's website following my editorial. My replies to her goofy comments follows after.

1HardWorker wrote:
You are CLUELESS David for writing this article on Smoke & Coffee, you lost your mind from inhailing all thoughs DEADLY TOXINS you talk so fondly about. Who cares about the past time between the two! It was proven decades ago the deadly effects it causes to the body affecting lungs, heart, arteries, throat, blood pressure,skin etc. We need the smoking ban to protect us from people like you who refuse to see the OBVIOUS DEADLY EFFECTS it causes to yourself & more importantly to us innocent non-smokers who are forced to breathe in YOUR RIGHT! As us non-smokers hear all the time: It is your right to smoke & slowly kill us innocent people off by polluting the air we are trying to breathe. WAKE UP DAVID-YOURS IS A NASTY HABIT THAT HARMS OTHERS & INCASE YOU FORGOT ABOUT THIS WHEN YOU WERE DOING ALL THAT STUDYING ON TABACCO PASTIMES AND YOUR STINKY COFFEE -CLEAN OXYGEN IS A NECESSITY FOR US TO LIVE! Where does OUR RIGHT TO BREATHE fit in your boring,babbling history lesson?! YOUR NOT SMART
4/1/2009 7:27:47 PM

1HardWorker wrote:
Another thing-were I work I am forced to breathe in smoke for almost 14 hours a day, I have actually vomited at work several times breathing in that "aroma" you talk about it severly effects my work & my body-I always feel like crap, I have to use one hand to cover my face so I can take short breaths to breathe. I am forced to be exposed to harmful air in order to make a living usually by people milking the system on unemployment, disability or SSI checks while they complain about the failing economy but they always manage to get their cigarettes, while I have to work for my money & breathe in toxins. I've lost 6 babies because I inhail so much second hand smoke while I'm at work, that it caused my blood to thicken from all the toxins I breathe and it killed my innocent babies. What rights did we have? It's not the pleasant experience you talk about in this article-in reality it's horrifying & deadly! I don't share your fond opinion of this silent KILLER! I can't wait for the ban!
4/1/2009 7:52:15 PM

StumpjackCoffee wrote:

Replying to 1HardWorker:

"You are CLUELESS David...[semi-coherent ranting]... YOUR NOT SMART"
Why thank you, 1HardWorker, for taking the time to edumacate me. I had no idea...what are these...toxins(?) speak of? I suddenly feel so enlightened and I owe it all to you, dear lady.

Seriously, you only know a small portion of what you speak here. I understand your position and I do empathize with it. However, when writing a comment on an article it would help if you actually read the article first. If you had, in fact, read the article you would know that 1) I am not a cigarette smoker and 2) my call is for exemptions for cigar bars and cigar lounges, places I doubt someone like you would be interested in going to and which are designed specifically for cigar smokers. Thus, your much of your argument is irrelevant as it does not address anything related to my article anyway.

Again, please try to think before speaking next time. Rabid emotion doesn't improve your position.
4/2/2009 12:33:28 PM

StumpjackCoffee wrote:

Replying to 1HardWorker:

"Another thing-were I work I am forced...."
I am sorry to hear of your troubles and challenges with your place of employment. But again, the points you raise have nothing to do with my article. I won't get into the issue of you supposedly being "forced" to work at such a place, but will simply repeat that you might want to actually read and think about what you read (it's called reading critically) before opening your mouth or touching a keyboard. When you just rant and rave and shout things that are irrelevant to what you're supposedly commenting on you just sound...well...a little "extreme," shall we say?

Also, if you are going to make comments either here or by phone (got your voice message...very entertaining, thanks much), you might want to have the courage of your convictions and use your name. If you stand for something then don't hide behind a screen name or make anonymous calls. Anonymity weakens your argument. Good luck to you.
4/2/2009 12:45:54 PM

Note: I'm also proud to note that I just found out that the column was also reproduced on the Cigar Rights of America (CRA) site as well as Sweet! 4/13/09