Arnold Schwarzenegger Tells Beverly Hills to Ban Tobacco Sales, Just Not at His Cigar Club

As the city of Beverly Hills gets ready to pass perhaps the toughest law on tobacco sales in the country, local elites have lobbied to exempt their swanky and exclusive cigar lounges. Among them are a cardiac surgeon, a rabbi and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they may have smoked their way past the pending law, according to the Los Angeles TImes.

Once passed, as expected, the city would terminate the sale of any tobacco products — with the exception of three cigar lounges, where those products could be bought and smoked on those premises.

The law would prohibit the sale of "cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, and smokeless tobacco and any electronic cigarette."

The Times reported that "hundreds" of cigar aficionados, mostly elites, petitioned the city to exclude their clubs from the potential ban, though most supported the tobacco ban.

One of the top clubs mentioned in requests was the Grand Havana Club, in which Schwarzenegger said was his "home away from home." It's a club so exclusive that members need a special key to enter.

"The Grand Havana Room, which I have been a member since its inception, provides a treasured home away from home," the actor and former governor wrote to the city. "It is unthinkable that the city might adopt a policy that would intentionally or unintentionally cause the closure of this character-defining institution."

With city leaders scheduled to vote Tuesday night, the actor told them he still supports banning the sale of tobacco products.

"I am right there with you," Schwarzenegger wrote to the city. "I agree with your battle to protect people from the dangers of tobacco smoke. … I trust that [the city] will recognize the fundamental difference" between elite lounges like the Grand Havana Room and convenience stores and gas stations."

Dr. Richard Shemin, the UCLA chairman of cardiac surgery, told the city he's well-aware of the effects of tobacco on the human body, but he pleaded to exempt his club from the proposed law.

"I know very well the adverse effects on health, that's why I'm supportive of the general ban," Shemin said. "However, I think adults in private clubs who make personal choices should be allowed to do so."

Passing a sweeping ban of tobacco products would only be the beginning for Beverly Hills, which expects an onslaught of protests of the law from tobacco companies, according to Beverly Hills public information officer Keith Sterling.

"We expect to hear from tobacco companies," Sterling said. "Even if this passes, that we'll continue to hear from them. There's certainly a lot of passion from [cigar lounge] patrons. The council was glad to hear from them."

The city received several high-profile letters from cigar lounge patrons, including one insurance industry CEO who called the Grand Havana Room "the Cheers of Beverly Hills."

Area banker Vik Thadani said his fellowship with other patrons and members helped his career.

"I learned about a great job opportunity at a private cigar event on the patio of the club — a job that I eventually landed and catapulted my career to what it is now, managing billions of dollars for private equity and venture capital firms in the area," Thadani wrote.

Israeli security specialist Avi Korein said clubs like the Grand Havana Room serve as a safe haven for celebrities who seek camaraderie with like-minded folks, and seclusion from autograph seekers and paparazzi.

"In our work as a security firm to many high net worth and or high profile clients, we often experience [a] lack of privacy, photographers, autograph seekers," Korein wrote to the council.

And then there's Rabbi Steven Weil of the Orthodox Union, who claims private rooms like these have "shaped" several entertainment and business industries.

"The Grand Havana Room attracts thoughtful people who want to engage in thoughtful conversation," Weil wrote. "It has shaped the film, music and financial industries."