The elitism of exemptions

It’s been a busy week for tobacco policy. One of the developments is senate approval of an exemption for cigar bars in New Hampshire:

The New Hampshire Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would grant cigar bars permission to sell liquor if approved by the House.

Though the bill exempts cigar bars from the state’s two-year-old ban on smoking in public bars and restaurants, lawmakers added restrictions to the bill before it passed in a 21-9 vote.

Businesses will be required to: not serve food of any kind, show proof that 60 percent of gross revenue is derived from cigars or related products, maintain a humidor on the premises, and prohibit cigarette smoking. Also, all job applicants must be warned in writing about the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure.

This should be good news. Exemptions for cigar bars aren’t uncommon and there’s no reason New Hampshire shouldn’t have one too. And yet the prohibition on cigarette smoking bothers me. What is the justification for letting cigar smokers have places to enjoy their hobby indoors while denying the same right to cigarette smokers? There isn’t one. Cigar smokers just happen to have the resources to protest. Once their needs are met, who’s going to stand up for people who choose other forms of tobacco?

That’s exactly the question faced in North Carolina this week, which has joined the shameful ranks of states with smoking bans. Cigar bars can qualify for exemptions. Hookah bars, on the other hand… :

For the past several months, fliers have hung from the walls of Adam Bliss’s local hookah bar. They asked customers to call senators and lobby for an amendment to an anti-smoking bill that would keep Hookah Bliss open.

Bliss called the senators himself twice a day. He contacted hookah bars across the state to fight for an amendment. But after much effort, his lobby has failed.

The bill, which was ratified May 13 by the N.C. General Assembly, will prohibit smoking in all restaurants and bars. It was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Bev Perdue, causing Bliss to have to close his doors in January since he serves both alcohol and tobacco products. […]

Legislation does allow for some tobacco-based businesses to stay open.

The new law permits cigar bars and private clubs to continue operating. However, Bliss said it would not be possible to change his business to fit under either of these categories.

A cigar bar is defined to make more than 25 percent of its profits from cigars, which Bliss does not serve. A private club is defined as a country club or organization linked with a nonprofit organization which does not provide food or lodging to a person who is not a member or member’s guest.

“This bill has basically protected the playground of the rich and elite,” he said, noting his confusion about why an amendment would be passed for a cigar bar but not a hookah bar. “They are allowing the exact same types of businesses to operate.”

Bliss is absolutely right. There’s no reason that he should be shut down while a cigar bar next door could remain open. We are all in this together. Even if we only enjoy cigars, we need to stand up for the rights of cigarette, hookah, and pipe smokers. Or even we don’t smoke at all, we shouldn’t compromise the right of consenting adults to assemble and consume a legal substance.

New Hampshire should pass this cigar bill, but it shouldn’t stop there. The same exemption requirements should apply to the sale of any tobacco product, not only those consumed by the upper class.


3 thoughts on “The elitism of exemptions”

  1. Unfortunately, this seems to be becoming the norm. Nebraska recently also passed a smoking ban that at the last minute got an exemption for cigar bars. Pipe and cigar smoking is allowed but cigarette smoking prohibited.

    Of course after that passed into law the American Cancer Society tried to say that that exemption “is unconstitutional ‘special legislation’ because it would provide an economic benefit to those bars.”

    The fact that they could say that with a straight face after they were the ones that wanted to remove the economic benefit from all the other bars and restaurants is pretty pathetic, but then that sort of thing seems to be becoming the norm too.

  2. Apparently the cigarette ban has not been harmful to bars. I think it will be nice to be able to go out and enjoy a beer or a ball game, or even a nice meal without having to suck in smoke. Smokers are selfish. While I think this law will be great if it passes I’d rather see a law that prohibits smoking in front of children.

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