Village Idiot Proofing Your Right to Smoke
*This article/commentary was originally posted by fellow tobacconist “Chief Hava” on his website located at http://havacigar.blogspot.com/. The article is taken from his post at http://havacigar.blogspot.com/2009/07/village-idiot-proofing-your-right-to.html in full except for some minor spelling and spacing errors.*
In case you missed it, Galveston’s village idiot, Tarris L. Woods, sealed the fate of my prior partner’s Hurricane Ike recovery efforts when he strong-armed the Mayor, and two fellow councilwomen, to remove the retail tobacco store exemption from the city’s new indoor smoking ban ordinance.
Charlie Head, and his new partner James Warnell, were in the process of launching their new business, Havana Alley Cigar Shop and Lounge, in the former location of Hava Cigar Shop and Lounge at 415 21st Street in Galveston, Texas. Having completed a significant portion of the licensing and design work in preparation for a September 1, 2009 launch, they were well on their way to re-establishing the island’s sole tobacconist presence when the rumors of a push to revive an indoor smoking ban arose in June.
In a surprising turn of events, the new ban, while similar to the ordinance that had failed in 2006 due to the efforts of an engaged citizenry and business community, was being actively sought and promoted by many of the same restaurateurs that had fought to defeat it two years earlier. In the daunting shadow if an imminent statewide smoking ban, the Smoke Free Texas Act, these businessmen had re-built their facilities and re-opened post-Ike as non-smoking establishments.
When the statewide ban failed in the Texas Legislature, these businessmen found themselves at a competitive disadvantage of their own making, as diners were leaving to enjoy their high-margin post-meal cocktails and smokes in nearby bars. Acting in their own narrow self-interest, these businessmen influenced the pro-business Mayor, Lyda Ann Thomas, to re-introduce the indoor smoking ban ordinance, and gave her strict guidance to ensure that the final ordinance did not leave any loopholes open, such as ‘private club’ exemptions.
The original draft of the new smoking ban ordinance was drafted in a manner that ensured that these loop-holes would be closed, but provided an extremely narrow exemption for retail tobacco stores. This exemption required that the retail tobacco store maintain 90% tobacco sales, disallowed the on-premise consumption of BYO alcohol and contained a vague prohibition against the ‘infiltration of smoke’ to its neighbors if it were not free-standing.
Having run a profitable retail tobacco store in Galveston, I can tell you that any one of these three requirements would have been a ‘deal-breaker’ for Havana Alley Shop and Lounge which, like Hava Cigar before it, was built on a private membership model and lounge concept that depended on its location and the ability for those members to store and consume alcohol in the lounge. Despite these limitations, Mr. Head and Mr. Warnell pushed forward. They sought, and received a verbal commitment that these restrictions would be revised to allow for the profitable operation of their new business.
On the night of the vote, the council’s discussions specifically referred to the appropriateness of this exemption for an adults-only retail outlet that sold tobacco, however Councilman Tarris Woods threatened to derail the entire effort if the exemption were not removed using the false logic of an analogy that the sampling of tobacco products in a tobacco store was no more protected than the sampling of liquor in a liquor store. The Mayor, and two other Councilwoman, conceded and, in quick order, passed the most restrictive indoor smoking ban ordinance in the entire State of Texas. The fate of Mr. Head’s new business venture was thus sealed.
The moral to the story: if it can happen in Galveston, Texas…it can happen where you live as well. After all, this isn’t California. This is Texas. A few years ago, during the debate surrounding the previous ordinance, I would have bet any amount of money that there was absolutely no chance that a Texas city would pass an ordinance banning smoking within a retail tobacco store that did not sell alcohol. Clearly, I ‘mis-underestimated’ the power of a single uninformed politician to lead an eager anti-smoking nanny-state influenced municipal government body too far down the path.
I cannot appropriately describe to you how angry this has made me. It is no longer theoretical, and I have had enough. I have long engaged in the debate against smoking bans, while subconsciously withholding my efforts in the battle against forced bans in bars and restaurants. After all, the Texas Restaurant Association, seeing isolated municipal bans push their customers into suburban cities without bans, had themselves become the promoters of a statewide ban. While the hybrid ‘cigar bar’ became the new ‘front line’, I felt, incorrectly, that I did not have any business interest in that specific debate, so long as the well established retail tobacco store ‘firewall’ remained. Clearly I was wrong.
So what now? In my mind, the era of our reactive defensive posturing has come to an end. We can no longer afford to depend on the assumption that these bans will stop short of banning smoking in our retail tobacco businesses. Instead, we must adopt and pursue the offensive strategy of securing legislative guarantees at the local, state and federal level in order to preserve the rights of our consumers to consume tobacco within the confines of the businesses in which this legal product is sold.
Jorge Luis Armenteros, CMT, President & Founder, Tobacconist University has been a leader in this area for more than a year, promoting his concept of a Tobacconist Preservation Act (TPA). This law, if enacted, would provide us the legal protection and ensure the stability of our industry by preventing subordinate government entities from passing bans that ban smoking within our stores. While I appreciate the flowery language celebrating the history of our profession within Mr. Armenteros’ TPA, I prefer a much simpler and straightforward approach. I am by no means an attorney, but I would prefer legislation to this affect:
Whereas the primary business of a tobacco wholesaler or retailer is to sell tobacco and tobacco related accessories, the right to legally consume that product within the confines of retail tobacco stores shall not be infringed upon by indoor smoking bans. Any business which derives 51%, or more, of their revenue from the sale of tobacco, or tobacco related accessories and/or is licensed as a tobacco wholesaler, or retailer, shall be exempt from any ban on smoking within their business, or its attached outdoor smoking areas.
In the words of Sir Winston Churchill:
‘The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.’
I strongly encourage the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR), the Texas Cigar Merchants Association (TxCMA) and theCigar Rights of America (CRA) organization to adopt this offensive posture and utilize its resources, and the efforts of its constituency, to aggressively pursue these protections. If we fail to act, you may well find yourself trying to comprehend the implications of the actions of your own village idiot.
- Smoke ‘M – Chandler, AZ Smoke ‘M is a head shop located in Chandler, Arizona...
- Smoking and Alcohol Together Again Cigar lounges in Arizona get a huge win as of...
- Judge Advises a Smoking Loophole Washington has a state law that bans smoking in public...
- Tobacco Road – El Paso, Texas I would expect to enter a realm of great cigars...
- Casa Fuma Open Casa Fuma Fine Cigars, located in Gilbert, Arizona is now...