Cigar smoking fate unknown

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The acrid reek of Acid Blondies, Arturo Fuentes and Vanilla Imported Dreams linger in and around Jake’s Cigars and Spirits in Lincoln despite a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling curbing their use.

Yet nobody knows exactly for how long.

That’s because a challenge to the constitutionality of the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act led the Nebraska Supreme Court to exclude cigar and pipe tobacco from exemption.

Drawing long slow pulls from a Natural Toro Padron cigar, sipping soda and mulling over a glass chess board, Chad Clark, 35, said the ruling could lead to a further loss of other rights and freedoms.

“I think it’s the dumbest Supreme Court ruling that they could make,” he said.

And Clark wasn’t alone in his thinking. Several people interviewed – non-smokers and smokers alike – said the ban was too intrusive on free choice.

But beyond the general discontent of the recent ruling, there was a hidden trace of delight.

Katrina Thomas, 37, a case manager for low-income families, said she looked forward to the extended ban. A cigarette and “once in a while” cigar smoker, Thomas said she doesn’t like smoking inside and is glad about the initial ban on cigarettes.

“Even though I’m a smoker, I’m glad we don’t smoke cigarettes in bars anymore,” she said. “We know it’s not healthy.”

The Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act was launched to “protect the public health and welfare by prohibiting smoking in public places and places of employment,” according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. In 2009, it passed and made smoking tobacco in enclosed indoor public workplaces – retail, office, manufacturing spaces, restaurants, bars and keno establishments – illegal.

According to Jeff Kirkpatrick, the Lincoln City Attorney, the penalties for a first-offense violation of the ordinance are a Class-5 misdemeanor that carries a maximum $100 fine with no minimum.

However, violators have an option to pay out of pocket and voluntarily enroll in a smoking-cessation course to have the charge dismissed. Kirkpatrick said second and subsequent offenses are Class-4 misdemeanors that carry between a $500 and $100 fine for the offender in addition to the proprietor of the establishment.

But an exemption for a limited number of hotel guest rooms and tobacco stores was later included in the legislation. This mandated every cigar bar be properly ventilated, sold no food, maintained a walk-in humidor and earned at least 10 percent of its gross annual sales from tobacco,which granted the legal indoor consumption of cigars, pipe tobacco and certain flavored cigarillos.

Some bar owners balked and said the exception was unfair.

The owner of Big John’s Billiards in Omaha sued, in an attempt to overturn the law altogether and allow smoking in billiard halls. The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the ban, but included cigar and pipe tobacco stores.

The 5-2 opinion ruled that exemptions for cigar and pipe tobacco stores were unconstitutional. The court found the exemption constituted “special legislation” that failed to protect the public from second-hand smoke, which was the original intent of the act.

The court’s minority argued, however, that patrons entering cigar and pipe tobacco stores assumed the risks of the environment, and thus, didn’t necessitate the protection of the state.

Following the court’s decision, the Nebraska Premium Tobacco Association, which represents a group of cigar bars and tobacco shops, appealed. In the meantime, the State Liquor Control Commission temporarily extended the special liquor licenses set to expire Oct. 31, until the Supreme Court issues a final ruling.

“The court’s decision on the appeal has taken longer than expected, but a ruling should be made in the next few weeks,” according to Cigar Aficionado. “Should the court uphold its no-smoking decision, cigar bars and retail shops will only have a few days to comply.”

For now, cigar buffs can strike a match, relax and watch their friends smoke cigarettes outside.

Thomas said she thinks the decision will be upheld.

“Secondhand smoke is not good for people,” Thomas said. “It’ll just take adjusting, just like the (original) smoking ban.”


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