Bill to re-legalize cigar bars heard

A Nebraska cigar bar (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 26, 2015 - 5:55pm

In the Nebraska Legislature Monday, advocates argued people should be allowed to smoke a cigar and have a drink in cigar bars, while opponents said cigars are a cancer risk and the cigar bars should not be allowed.

Nebraska banned indoor smoking in most places of business in 2008. The next year, it carved out an exception for cigar bars. Last August, the state Supreme Court ruled that exception unconstitutional. Now, supporters want to re-legalize what are now being termed cigar shops. Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill introduced the bill, and told the General Affairs Committee, which he chairs, the thinking behind it.

"What we are attempting to do here today is what other states have also attempted to do, which is strike a balance between the liberty rights of those desiring to smoke a cigar or pipe without trampling the rights of the general public to not unwillingly be subjected to secondhand smoke," Larson said. "It is my hope the Supreme Court will respect and appreciate what it is we are trying to do here today."

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln said he supports the effort. "I was part of the group of senators who supported this in 2009. I think personally the Supreme Court got it wrong, and am happy you brought this correction for the body’s (the Legislature’s) consideration," Coash said.

Larson drew a distinction between cigars and cigarettes. "Cigars are significantly different in what they contain and how they are made. People are often not bothered by cigar smoke in the same way that they’re bothered by cigarette smoke. Cigars tend to be smoked leisurely, for an extended period of time as a hobby, whereas cigarette smokers tend to smoke as a habit necessary to satisfy their addiction," Larson said. "This can simply be illustrated during a harsh Nebraska winter when you will see people standing in the cold smoking in a cigarette yet you don’t typically see people standing in the cold smoking a cigar," he added.

Bradley Boyum of Omaha supported the bill, praising cigar bars as amazing places. "Something as small as a cigar can link such a wide group of people together. I’ve met and become friends with doctors, lawyers, judges, pilots, mechanics, plumbers," he said. "Just a couple of weeks ago a friend of mine came in, and a friend of his was visiting him for the first time in Nebraska, and he happened to be the starting tailback for an NFL team. That sort of stuff happens fairly often, and it’s all over a cigar."

David Holmquist of the American Cancer Society opposed the bill, LB118. "The language in (LB)118 states that cigars and pipe tobacco have different characteristics than other forms of tobacco such as cigarettes," he said. "However while the characteristics might seem different, the dangers are very much real and very similar.

Holmquist described some of those dangers. "Cigar smoking increases the risk of death from many cancers including lung, lip, tongue, mouth, throat, esophagus and voice box, or the larynx. Studies have shown that regular cigar smokers are four to ten times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx and esophagus than nonsmokers," he said.

Ashley Parker of Omaha also spoke against the bill. "If we’re within a little mall area, and let’s say you have a little grooming place here, you may have a hair salon here, how much is that secondhand smoke going to go into those other businesses?" she asked. "What about those in these businesses…that may be asthmatic, have worked there maybe ten years, two years, and now because of LB118 would have to change where they would work?

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission sent out notices at end of last year telling cigar bars their licenses no longer allowed smoking. Some of the roughly one dozen such bars in the state have stopped allowing smoking, while others say they will appeal, saying their licenses allow them to continue operating until Oct. 31. Meanwhile, the owners are hoping the Legislature re-legalizes cigar bars, with stronger language that will persuade the court.

After the cigar bar hearing, the committee heard testimony for and against giving the Legislature power to legalize different forms of gambling in the future. Lawmakers also considered a bill that would eliminate any required closing time for bars.








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