Nebraska Bill Reinstates Cigar Bar Exemptions

Legal smoking inside cigar bars could be returning to Nebraska as a pair of lawmakers have introduced a bill there that calls for the reinstatement of the smoking exemptions the establishments once operated under.

State Sens. Tyson Larson and Bob Krist introduced LB 118 on January 9, a bill that amends the state's Clean Indoor Air Act that was passed in 2008 and took effect in 2009. LB 118 includes language that would carve out an exemption status for cigar bars and once again allow smoking inside such establishments.

"Essentially what my cigar bar bill does is it leaves the status quo," Larson told the Daily Nebraskan. "We have a legal product, whether that's cigars or hookah. I believe that it is not the government's responsibility to regulate what people can and cannot do with that product, and businesses what they can and cannot do with that product."

Legal smoking inside cigar bars has become a hot-button issue ever since the Nebraska Supreme Court banned lighting up inside such establishments last year. While there were efforts to reverse the court's decision, ultimately the court remained steadfast and the smoking ban was passed.

The bill's language also seeks to change the legal definition of what a cigar bar in Nebraska is by substituting all instances of the word "bar" with "shop." The bill does not, however, change the requirements that must be met in order to obtain a cigar bar license. These requirements include such parameters as avoiding food sales, receiving 10 percent or more of gross revenue from tobacco sales, having a walk-in humidor and not permitting cigarettes to be lit up on the premises.

Perhaps most interesting of all, though, is that the bill strives to establish a clear difference between tobacco used in cigars and cigarette tobacco. The section reads:

"The Legislature finds that allowing smoking in cigar shops as a limited exception to the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act does not interfere with the original intent that the general public and employees not be unwillingly subjected to second-hand smoke since employees have ample other opportunities for similar employment at other establishments. This exception poses a de minimis restriction on the public and employees given the limited number of cigar shops compared to other businesses that sell alcohol, cigars and pipe tobacco, and any member of the public should reasonably expect that there would be second-hand smoke in a cigar shop given the nature of the business and could choose to avoid such exposure."

LB 118 also makes note of the relationship cigar aficionados have with alcoholic beverages, and establishes that the enjoyment of a cigar is hobby that is completely different from cigarettes. "Unlike cigarette smokers," says the bill, "Cigar and pipe smokers may take an hour or longer to enjoy a cigar or pipe rather than simply satisfying an addiction."

The Cigar Association of America, the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association and the Cigar Rights of America all support the bill. "CRA strongly supports LB 118 as a legislative solution to correcting the Nebraska Supreme Court decision," said Glynn Loope, executive director of the CRA.

This story first appeared in the January 20 issue of Cigar Insider.