Hamish Champ: When is the smoking ban not a smoking ban?*

By Hamish Champ

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Smoking

Walking down Wardour Street in London's Soho district one evening last week my attention was grabbed by something that two and a bit years ago would...

Walking down Wardour Street in London's Soho district one evening last week my attention was grabbed by something that two and a bit years ago would have not caused an eyelid to be batted.

Near the site of the famous Marquee club - ah, such memories - stands a Conran restaurant, and next to that is what appeared to me at any rate to be a rather upmarket café.

As I ambled past it with a friend last Thursday evening I noticed a besuited man standing inside and lighting up one of the biggest cigars I'd ever seen.

Clouds of aromatic smoke billowed from the end of his cigar and wafted up towards the café's trendy spotlights.

Hang on, I thought, what's going on here? Surely this brazen breach of health and safety regulations would be spotted by some snoop from Westminster council.

Surely the owner of this establishment is aware of the rules governing smoking in public enclosed spaces?

Intrigued, I went inside and asked the cigar-smoking man, who turned out to be Dutch, how come he was puffing away indoors and in what was clearly a public place.

"I am just sampling this cigar," he said, clearly intent on sampling it right down to the stubbiest of stubs.

I looked around for the mandatory 'No smoking' sign on the establishment's door and sure enough, there it was. But on reading it was unlike any 'no smoking' sign I'd ever seen.

It said smoking in the premises was prohibited unless it wasfor the purposes of sampling cigars​. And, as he pointed out, my new-found Dutch chum was merely 'sampling'.

A closer look at the interior of the 'café' and I saw a number of people sitting around, all similarly enjoying the pleasures of 'sampling' cigars.

"Are we smoking?!" asked the Dutchman of those reclining in large leather chairs. His question was met with puzzled looks and more clouds of second-hand, if pungent, smoke.

As it happens I was rather taken with this perfectly legal slant on the smoking regulations. The Casa del Habano - the name of what is actually a cigar shop, albeit one that looks like an upmarket café - is exempt from the ban and perfectly entitled to allow its customers to light up, according to the strict rules governing sampling of certain tobacco-based products.

I did a bit of research and sure enough, there it was in The Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007, dated March 7 of that year.

What particularly struck me afterwards was how weird​ it looked, seeing someone smoking - OHMYGOD! - 'indoors'.

So to any licensee who feels they simply must resurrect smoking in their pub, forget 'tobacco research centres', 'smoke-ins' and other cack-handed efforts to circumvent the law.

Turn your establishment into a specialist tobacconist, buy yourselves a humidor and a few Cuban cigars and off you go!

(*When it's sampling, that's when)

Related topics: Legislation

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