Why NJ’s anti-smoking lawmaker is leading the effort to open cigar lounges
It's been banned for 10 years in New Jersey, but the creation of new cigar lounges received the green light from an Assembly panel on Thursday.
The lounges would be expected to follow strict guidelines and they'd only be permitted in municipalities that choose to adopt an ordinance.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, a primary sponsor of the measure, said his effort is geared toward a unique subset of the population that enjoys smoking cigars and doesn't mind coming into contact with the smoke.
He describes himself as "anti-smoking." He was a sponsor of the New Jersey Smoke-Free Air Act that prohibited smoking in public places and workplaces and went into effect in 2006, blocking the establishment of new cigar lounges.
But Gusciora, who represents the state's economically struggling state capital, believes this law could be a boon to local business.
“Cigar smokers are a devoted and nuanced group of aficionados who gather and socialize in an environment that would be their own,” he said. “This bill would give towns that want to expand their offerings and appeal to this niche market the option to do so. It would also create a new economic engine for entrepreneurs who want to cater to cigar enthusiasts, and give cigar smokers more places to go to and enjoy their hobby without affecting non-smokers.”
In order to be approved for operation, cigar lounges cannot sell or serve food or alcohol, except in the case of a private event. They must also have an entrance distinct from any other establishments and be equipped with an exhaust system to ensure worker and customer safety.
"Cigar smoking is quite unhealthy for the people that use it, but equally important for the people that are exposed to it, especially workers," said Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of Global Advisors on Smokefree Policy in Summit, who's against the opening of new lounges. "It's also a step in renormalizing smoking."
According to Blumenfeld, the state puts out more than $3 billion annually for health care costs related to smoking, and this move would only make that number grow.
Ralph Alberto, owner of Fume Cigar Shop & Lounge in Montclair, welcomes the push for more similar establishments. His location is in its 12th year of business and customer activity has been steady.
"I think more restrictions on business is less helpful to the whole economy of New Jersey," Alberto told New Jersey 101.5. "I think you need competition; it helps you increase your game."
Gusciora's bill was approved by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.