General Affairs

Cigar bar clarification proposed

Cigar shops could obtain liquor licenses under legislation heard by the General Affairs Committee Jan. 26. Introducer O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson said the bill explains the Legislature’s intent better than the previous exemption recently declared unconstitutional by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

LB118 would permit a cigar shop to apply for a liquor license if the establishment:
• does not sell food;
• generates at least 10 percent of its gross revenue from sales of cigars, tobacco and tobacco-related products, not including cigarettes;
• has a walk-in humidor; and
• does not allow cigarette smoking.

Larson said the bill is intended to provide a narrow and constitutional exception to the Nebraska Clean Air Act that prohibits indoor smoking in the state. Cigar bars differ from other drinking establishments, Larson said, because smoking is the primary reason customers go there. Similarly, he said, because so few cigar bars exist in Nebraska, there are ample non-smoking businesses that provide job opportunities.

People who choose to patronize or work in a cigar bar know they’ll be subjected to cigar smoke, he said.

“Customers choose to go into that cigar bar and employees choose to work in that cigar bar,” Larson said. “This has been the status quo for the past six years,” he said. “LB118 would keep the status quo.”

Jeff Doll, owner of Safari Cigars and Lounge in Omaha, testified in support of the bill. He said his business can’t compete with online cigar vendors, so providing a local location to purchase and smoke cigars is how he stays in business.

“Cigar smoking is a relaxing and social activity,” he said. “Without the option to smoke indoors, there is no way for us to build relationships with customers.”

Glynn Loope, representing Cigar Rights of America also spoke in favor of the bill, saying that cigar bars are legal in 47 states. Nebraska’s cigar bars represent important small businesses that deserve the same opportunity as other venues to serve customers, he added.

Cigars are different than cigarettes in that they are designed to be paired with alcohol and smoked at a relaxed pace, said Bradley Boyum, a cigar bar patron from Omaha. Testifying in support of the bill, he called the venues “amazing places” that unite people with a wide variety of backgrounds and professions.

Boyum said the last six years have shown that cigar bars can be operated successfully in Nebraska.

“Let’s keep these great businesses alive in Nebraska,” he added.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, David Holmquist of the American Cancer Society said that smoking one cigar is equal to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes.

“They’re still tobacco,” he said. “They’re still dangerous to peoples’ health.”

Hobert Rupe, executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, testified in a neutral capacity. He said that when the Clean Air Act exemption was first approved, officials anticipated a large number of bars would offer cigars as a way to allow smoking indoors. However, Rupe said high startup costs have limited the number of cigar bars to 10 venues in Nebraska.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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