In a busy restaurant and entertainment venue with no windows and no ventilation other than air conditioning, a man at the next table to me smoked a cigar (or most probably more than one cigar) throughout much of the evening. It provoked almost violent thoughts as I tried to eat some of Dubai’s most delicious food with my nostrils and lungs consistently full of his smoke and my eyes left sore and watering at times.
I called over the manager and told him that if he wanted his otherwise excellent place to be taken seriously and have enthusiastic customers return he needed to discourage cigar smoking in the middle of his restaurant. He shrugged and said he couldn't do much about it but eventually moved us to another table far away from the human chimney.
At dinner not long after I was seated close to a table where a man and woman were both smoking cigars at the end of their meal. It was on a terrace so you might say fair enough, but the smoke wafted over throughout my first course and then thankfully they left.
The next morning I was sitting by the family pool at a hotel. It was a quiet Monday morning with almost nobody there, bar some parents and a couple of young children and a few other sunbathers. Another guest came and sat just a few sunbeds away from me — despite there being plenty of space for him to stretch out elsewhere — and, yes, he promptly lit up an enormous cigar. I sat up, stared at him pointedly, and escaped into the pool away from his foul stench.
I've enjoyed a cigar in the past and I regret that when I interviewed the late Lord Grade, a titan of the British television industry for decades, I declined his generous offer of one of his enormous Montecristos. I have a colleague who is a cigar aficionado and I respect her right to enjoy that hobby. I don't challenge the freedom of enthusiasts to relish cigars and to smoke on dedicated terraces or privately where they like. But the impact on others is considerable if they, and those who run the establishment, are not thoughtful — and smoking a cigar while those around them are eating or in an enclosed space is not something I’m sure any considerate person would do.
After all, a single cigar can contain more tobacco than a packet of 20 cigarettes. That’s a lot of tobacco to burn while around other people who do not share your interest, not least with the dangers of passive smoking well documented.
My frustration aside, the UAE is a very tolerant country to live in and we should all cherish that. If you want to smoke publicly, on the whole you can. The law protects children from tobacco smoke and the hospitality industry has largely moved with the times; where some venues could be very smoky when I arrived here four years ago, that is unusual now and most places have designated areas for smokers. I’m not a fan of shisha but appreciate it is popular and I'm not obliged to go to venues where it is offered. Even if I do, I can live with it and a little cigarette smoke — they don’t spoil my evening. But cigar smoke is strong and ruinous to the palate if you are not enjoying that pleasure yourself.
I'm not a huge fan of telling people what they should and shouldn't do, although respecting cultural and religious considerations where you live is a given. But it is 2022, not the era of Lord Grade or before him fellow cigar champion Winston Churchill. I would appeal to the hospitality industry in the UAE, buoyed by the arrival of Michelin and its Red Guide, to let customers focus on their food offering and to encourage those who whip out one of Cuba’s finest to enjoy it outside and away from diners who want to enjoy their meal outside of a pungent cloud.