Cigar Aficionado

Albuquerque Tobacconists Team to Fight Smoking Ban Proposal

An Albuquerque, New Mexico, lawmaker's proposal to amend the statewide smoking ban to include cigar bars and tobacco retail stores has city tobacconists reeling and teaming up to fight back.

"I think it's terrible," said Al Baca, owner of Duke City Cigars. "We do a very good business, but it's nice to pick out your cigar, smoke it and compare notes to whoever is sitting there." Baca argues that a customer who sees someone enjoying a cigar is more likely to spend money.

If enacted, the Albuquerque Clean Indoor Air Ordinance would extend the state's Dee Johnson Clean Indoor Air Act, in effect since 2007, to include any public indoor space. Current law allows smoking in tobacco retail stores and cigar bars; a cigar bar must demonstrate that it grosses more than 10 percent of its revenue from tobacco sales.

Since both type of venues are open to the public, and potentially expose people to secondhand smoke, they are included in the ordinance. Larry Monte, owner of Monte's Pueblo Pipe Shop for over 35 years, disagrees with this logic.

"People that shop in cigar stores and go to cigar bars know what they are getting into," Monte argues. "And we have a ventilation system to filtrate the air, as well."

In addition to his cigar shop, Monte operates The Albuquerque Club, a private cigar club. Monte established the club in response to the state's smoking ban to provide a place for cigar lovers to light up, worry free. According to the Albuquerque Journal, City Councilor Michael Cadigan has questioned whether the club conforms to state law.

Monte says the club requires membership dues, functions under bylaws and is nonprofit and recognized by the state. Monte even took the proper steps to ensure the club's building conformed to current law.

"We went through the city of Albuquerque and got every permit you had to obtain," Monte said. City fire officials inspected the club's ventilation system for the possibility of smoke seeping into neighboring businesses, which would be a violation of the proposed ordinance, and could find no problems.

Cadigan suggests that tobacco stores can build outdoor patios, much like bars and restaurants, to be in line with the law.

"Not even an option for me," Baca contends. "I'm in a strip center and there is no way for me to legally build a deck even if I wanted."

The city's Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee is expected to review the ordinance at its meeting next Wednesday. Both Monte and Baca plan to be there to address the committee.