No smoking on Mondays

This is one of the most absurd smoking regulations I’ve come across yet. In Maryland, bars that can prove financial hardship from the statewide smoking ban can receive an exemption until January 31, 2011. The Crossroads, profiled in this article, is one of the few bars in the state that can allow smoking, and its business is booming… most days:

In fact, the only day that the bar isn’t bustling is on Mondays, when the Crossroads must comply with the smoking ban. The one-day prohibition was enacted at the start of the year, part of the state’s plan to phase out smoking at places with waivers. Next year, such venues must designate two or three nonsmoking days.

[Owner Tim Brandenburg] cringes at the thought of losing another smoking day, and on Mondays he gets a glimpse of what might become of his bar when the waiver expires.

Last Monday afternoon, the Crossroads was as quiet as a morgue. At a time when many people usually pour in after work, only three patrons were present.

On a smoking day, Brandenburg says, his bar can ring up as much as $1,000 in sales. On Monday, receipts totaled $138. […]

It will be up to [Carroll County Health Officer Larry Leitch] to decide whether the Crossroads must add one or two more nonsmoking days in 2010.

“I’ll have to address that when the time comes up to make the next decision,” Leitch said. “The thing that [Brandenburg] has to realize is that, as of Feb. 1, 2011, he has to be totally smoke-free.”

It’s stupid for legislators and regulators to decide bars’ and restaurants’ smoking policies in the first place; no one knows what patrons want better than the business owners themselves. But this is a whole new level of ridiculous. The question of whether Brandenburg’s bar will be unprofitable two nights a week or three is left entirely in the hands of this random bureaucrat, Larry Leitch. What on Earth is Leitch’s decision supposed to be based on? The bar’s financial situation? Patrons’ health? Whether or not he likes Brandenburg? Whether he happens to be in a good mood from having sex the night before? This is rule by one man’s whim, not by law.


Maryland may snuff out its smoke shops

Maryland is considering a bill to raise its cigarette tax from $2 to $2.75 per pack, but legislators are worried that the price increase will cause teenagers to start smoking cigars instead. Luckily they’ve come up with an easy solution to the problem: Raise taxes on cigars too! Under the proposal, the tax on cigars will jump from 15% of the manufacturer’s price to an extremely punitive 90%. Combined with the statewide smoking ban, the new SCHIP taxes, and the recession, retailers are understandably fearing for their livelihoods. This could potentially defeat the revenue-raising purpose of the taxes. As a retailer friend of mine once said, “90% of nothing is nothing.”

Though no politician could get away with saying it, I’m not convinced that teenage smokers switching from cigarettes to cigars is something to be discouraged (assuming they are going to continue smoking something). Cigars aren’t inhaled directly and are less habit-forming,* and they could become a rewarding hobby into adulthood. If I were the parent of a teenager I would much rather see him smoking a few cigars per week than taking constant cigarette breaks throughout the day.

This is not the first anti-cigar proposal to come out of Maryland recently. Maryland cities and counties have been banning sales of low-cost, individual cigars to keep them out of reach of the poor and of teens who might strip out the tobacco and replace it with an even more illicit leaf.

*Update: To clarify, by “non-habit forming” I’m referring to their general usage, not to their chemical properties.

[Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Stogie Guys.]


Blunt racism

Prince George’s County, MD has approved a measure banning the sale of individual cigars. Stores must instead sell them in packs of at least five. But there are exceptions:

Tobacco stores that specialize in cigar sales, and often sell high-end cigars for as much as $5 apiece or more, are excluded from the legislation’s restrictions, as are other locations that are sometimes age-restricted, including golf courses, fraternal lodges, bars and restaurants.

Katherine Mangu-Ward cries racism:

In short, the only thing that has been banned are cheap cigars in places where poor black people buy them. Carry on with your commerce, white men, in your cigar stores, Elks Clubs, and golf courses.

But Katherine, you’ve got it all wrong! In today’s world, it’s treating people like adults and letting them purchase what they want that’s racist. That’s why everyone was so upset about the racist FDA tobacco bill that would have outlawed all cigarette flavorings except for menthol, that being the flavor preferred by three quarters of African-American smokers. The PG County ban disproportionately protects blacks, leaving middle class white guys unrestricted to indulge their deadly preferences.

As one of those middle class white guys who’ve been known to enjoy an individual $5 cigar from time to time, I’m terribly offended. I demand equality before the law! Prince George’s County, ban my purchases too!

Cigars for me, but not for thee
Freshly minted bias