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Smoke-Free Smoke Lounges

Bill Would Ban Smoking in California Tobacco Shops


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Imagine if you ordered a beer one night at a State Street bar, but instead of popping the cap off your brew, the bartender wrapped the bottle in a brown paper bag and asked if you wanted the receipt.

That’s the scenario Matthew Lanford, owner of Santa Barbara Cigar & Tobacco, finds comparable to California State Senate Bill 575. Introduced on February 17, the bill to ban smoking would include tobacco retailers and other workplaces once exempt from the state’s Smoke-Free Workplace laws, implemented over a decade ago. Smoke shops are “the last bastion for cigar smoking,” said Lanford, for whom a large part of smoking culture relies on casual conversations at tobacco shops over a lit cigar.

Santa Barbara Cigar & Tobacco has been on Figueroa Street for 15 years, where a smokers’ lounge occupies the back half of the store, unbeknownst to most passersby or even casual customers in the front part of the store. Leather couches line this dimly lit room where puffs of tobacco smoke lazily hover above smokers at all hours of the day.

Word has it that SB 575 won’t pass, says Lanford. All the same, the tobacconist and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association stand strongly against the bill.

Tobacco is a legal product, the association’s legislative director, Chris McCalla, said via press release, and its use should not be legislatively prohibited. “Not only that,” he added, “but Californians and visitors to the state who enjoy an occasional good cigar with a glass of wonderful California wine will have virtually nowhere to do so if this legislation is allowed to pass.” Among the places where Senate Bill 575 would ban smoking are private clubs, businesses with five or fewer employees, banquet rooms, and employee break rooms.

Lanford sees the bill as the Legislature’s way of making California a “nanny state” by taking away the “finer and funner things.”

A lot of the force behind the push for SB 575 is in the employee protection against second-hand smoke, an issue that always seems to be up in the air. But McCalla disagrees that there is “no safe level” of second-hand smoke, a claim stated on the Web site of the bill’s sponsor, Senator Mark DeSaulnier.

Recently, Lanford’s insurance company, Prudential Health Insurance, categorized him as a nonsmoker based on the nicotine levels in his blood, despite the five to 10 cigars Lanford smokes weekly. However, that doesn’t mean Lanford thinks it’s okay to smoke in front of his kids: As usual, there is a time and place for everything. According to Lanford, smokers know what they’re getting themselves into, and since there are so few places left to enjoy a smoke other than tobacco shops, he has to wonder, “Who’s it hurting?”

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