It appears Hawaii is abundant in both sunshine and rationality as lawmakers there have amended a bill to remove language that would have forced retailers to put premium cigars behind cash registers. Additionally, a separate bill that seeks to cap the excise tax on premium cigars at 50 cents is gaining traction in the state’s Senate.
Senate Bill 642, first introduced in January, called for cigarettes and tobacco products, including premium cigars, to be stored for sale behind a counter in certain establishments. Display bans such as this already exist in Canada, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a similar law, but one that would be far more controversial due to the precedence it could set in the United States.
Last Friday, though, lawmakers in Hawaii amended SB 642 to exclude premium cigars. It now only pertains to cigarettes and some other tobacco products.
While the bill did exempt “retail tobacco stores, bars, or any establishment for which the minimum age for admission is eighteen," the reality is a majority of the cigars in Hawaii are sold through stores that do not card at the door. According to Les Drent, owner of the Kauai Cigar Co. and president of the Hawaii Cigar Association, most smokers in Hawaii get their cigars in specialty businesses such as sundry shops, wine stores, free-standing humidors in grocers and coffee shops, not through brick-and-mortar cigar retailers.
Hawaiian lawmakers also are close to passing a 50 cent tax cap on premium cigars. The full Senate recently passed the bill with a vote of 24 to 1. Lawmakers are scheduled to hear another reading of SB188 tomorrow. To maintain momentum, Drent and the HCA have launched an online campaign in which cigar enthusiasts from anywhere, not just Hawaii, can lend their support. You can join at http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=188&year=2013