Friday, February 6, 2015

Bill to restore smoking in Nebraska cigar bars makes it out of committee

Cigar smokers moved a step closer to again being able to light up in specially licensed bars.

The Legislature’s General Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill making exceptions to the statewide smoking ban on cigars and little cigar use in bars.

Legislative Bill 118, sponsored by State Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, responds to a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling last year that snuffed out smoking in both types of places.

The court ruled last summer that the cigar bar and tobacco retail outlet exemptions amounted to unconstitutional special legislation. The ruling did not take effect until earlier this month, after the court rejected the state’s request for a rehearing in the case.

Larson said he has checked with a constitutional law expert and believes the new bill would withstand a legal challenge, if one were to be brought.

LB 118 adds language further spelling out legislative intent about cigar bars, which it calls cigar shops. Intent language about tobacco retail outlets was included in an amendment approved by the committee.

The bill as amended says that allowing smoking in cigar shops and tobacco retail outlets would not interfere with the goals of protecting the public and employees from second-hand smoke.

It said employees have “ample other opportunities for similar employment” and the public should expect second-hand smoke in a cigar shop and could choose to avoid such exposure.

Committee members voted 7-0 to advance the bill, with Sen. Merv Riepe of Omaha abstaining. He said he was concerned that the bill needed more legal review, given the high court ruling.

Under LB 118, as under the previous law, only cigar and pipe smoking would be allowed in cigar bars.

The bill differentiates cigars and pipes from cigarettes by saying that cigar lovers often pair cigars with various types of alcohol and that cigar and pipe smokers may take an hour or more to enjoy their smoking “rather than simply satisfying an addiction.”

The bars would have to meet special standards, including receiving 10 percent or more of gross revenue from cigar and pipe tobacco sales and having a walk-in humidor.

All types of tobacco products could be smoked in tobacco retail outlets, which are defined to include only tobacco specialty shops.

LB 118 could come up for debate by the full Legislature as early as next week.

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