Cigar Aficionado

Cigar Bar Bill Gains Momentum in New Jersey

A bill that would permit new cigar lounges to open in the state of New Jersey, and potentially create a legislative model for other states to follow, passed a recent General Assembly vote and will soon be up for discussion in the state Senate.

Currently, per the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act that was passed in 2004, new indoor smoking lounges are prohibited from being opened in the state. The only smoking establishments (aside from retail tobacco shops) are ones that were founded before the 2004 act and grandfathered in.

Assembly Bill 228, which is sponsored by a team of Democrats led by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (Mercer), would override the Smoke-Free Air Act and allow entrepreneurs to open new cigar lounges, but only under very strict circumstances. On June 23, the bill was overwhelmingly passed through the Assembly by a vote of 66 yeas to five nays, with six assembly members not voting.

According to the language of AB 228, new cigar lounges could only be opened so long as the business: generates 15 percent or more of its revenue from on-site tobacco sales and humidor rentals; is not located in a bar or restaurant; has a separate entrance from any other establishment; is publicly accessible; is equipped with an exhaust system that is maintained and inspected annually; and prohibits hookah smoking.

While some news outlets are reporting that AB 228 would allow new cigar bars—or an establishment that sells both tobacco and alcohol on-site—to be opened, this information is misleading. New cigar lounges opened under the proposed bill would not be allowed to sell or serve food or alcohol. Patrons, however, could bring their own food and drink to the establishment.

To open a new cigar lounge under AB 228, entrepreneurs would file an application with the local board of health that represents the municipality in which the cigar lounge is located. After meeting the requirements listed above, the cigar lounge would then be registered to the local board for one year, at which time it could then be renewed.

Supporters of the bill, including Cigar Rights of America executive director J. Glynn Loope, believe it would set an important paradigm that other states could follow for future cigar-related legislative measures.

"There is no greater place to foster growth and development than Main Street America," wrote Loope in a endorsement letter addressed to Gusciora. "Creating the opportunity for entrepreneurs to open premium cigar lounges will serve as an economic spark to many urban areas of New Jersey."

Three years ago, Washington state, which passed a very strict smoking ban in 2005, came close to passing a bill that would have a created a licensing program for new cigar bars and retail shops to open, but it was ultimately defeated.