(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Wayne P. DeAngelo, Joseph A. Lagana, Carmelo G. Garcia and L. Grace Spencer that would allow new cigar bars or cigar lounges to open in New Jersey passed the Assembly Monday by a vote of 66-5-5.
“Cigar smokers are a devoted and nuanced group of aficionados who gather and socialize in an environment that would be their own,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer). “This bill creates a new economic engine for entrepreneurs who want to cater to these aficionados by allowing new cigar lounges to open in a downtown environment.”
Under the “New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act,” new indoor smoking lounges and cigar bars are currently prohibited from being opened in the state. Any currently existing establishments had to have been established prior to 2004 and were grandfathered in under the act.
“Cigar sales are a big part of the state’s tobacco tax revenue,” said DeAngelo (D-Middlesex). “However, as it gets harder and harder to find places to smoke them, sales are dropping, which, in turn, reduces the amount of revenue the state takes in. So from that perspective, allowing new cigar bars just makes good fiscal sense.”
The bill (A-228) would allow new cigar bars or cigar lounges to open within the state, under a very specific set of circumstances. Individual municipalities would have discretion over how many establishments, if any, would be allowed to operate.
Newly established cigar bars or lounges would only be granted an operating license from the local board of health if:
- It will not sell or serve food or alcoholic beverages;
- Is not located within a bar or restaurant;
- Has an entrance separate and distinct from any other establishment;
- Is directly accessible to the public;
- Is equipped with an exhaust system, which must be maintained and inspected annually; and
- Will not allow the use of hookahs to smoke tobacco or non-tobacco products.
“Since the passage of the clean air act in 2004, we’ve seen the number of active cigar bars in the state dwindle,” said Lagana (D-Bergen). “Granting new cigar bars the ability to open, but only with municipal sign off, will help insure that new establishments only appear in areas where there’s actual local demand.”
Under the bill, the new cigar bars or lounges would not be eligible to have their operating license renewed if they:
- Fail to generate 15 percent or more of their income from the on-site sale of tobacco products and/or the rental of on-site humidors, excluding vending machine sales;
- Fail to comply with any of the initial licensing requirements;
- Fail to at least annually replace the filter on the exhaust system; and
- Expand in size or change their location.
If a cigar lounge or bar fails to have its license renewed, the owner would not be permitted to register another cigar bar or lounge.
“This bill won’t open the flood gates for new cigar establishments; there are restrictions,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “So, whether it’s a health concern or other issue, municipalities can choose whether or not they want these businesses in their town. And if they give them the green light, it could be a boost for the local economy and may also help generate a resurgence in the shops that have more of the feel of a classic smoking club from the 20s and 30s.”
“With the specific restrictions and regulations within this legislation, we strike the right balance between cigar hobbyists and public health concerns over smoking,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “It’s up to towns to decide if they want the new business and, after that, it’s up to the business owners to keep things running in accordance with the law. This way, everyone benefits.”
The bill would take effect seven months after enactment to allow the state Department of Health time to take any administrative action necessary for implementation. It now heads to the Senate for further consideration.